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Mavis Cheek brings Marlborough’s land of the living dead into loving life

“Land of the living dead” is how one historian has brilliantly described the soft chalk hills that surround Marlborough with their prehistoric sites where early man settled and prospered.

Now Mavis Cheek has brought them alive with a remarkable new novel, unlike any of her previous 14 that have so entertained an admiring audience with their wit, humour and wondrous sophisticated sex.

From her home in Aldbourne, she has populated the landscape with a story filled with vitality and colourful characters about the symbols of love and enduring love itself – old and new.

What she has cleverly done is to marry up, literally, a new version of Dorset’s famed Cerne Abbas Giant, the carved in  hillside fertility symbol, with the Lovers of Valdaro, the pair of young male and female skeletons locked in an eternal embrace, which were discovered in a Neolithic tomb in Italy four years ago.

And she has woven that into the lives and loves of the fictional village of Lufferton Boney, with arrival of red-haired archaeologist Molly Bonner – dressed in long, leather, black and shiny boots and a daringly short muslin, pink and frothy skirt – to investigate  The Lovers of Pound Hill.

“Wiltshire is certainly full of ancient places, ancient honourings and ancient atmosphere,” Mavis explains. “If you are going to use a county in which to express fictional ideas about the past and the present, then Wiltshire is just about the perfect place.”

Her own interest in archaeology, partly sparked back into life by the work her daughter Bella has been doing at the Jurassic Museum, in Purbeck, inspired her latest fictional fantasy.

“We used to watch Time Team avidly, though the Jurassic is way before the time I’m writing about, when creatures rather than man walked or swam,” she says.

“I can’t remember when I put the two ideas together – the Lovers of Valdaro and the naughty old Cerne Abbas Giant. It just happened. I used to have a cottage near Bridport in Dorset and Cerne Abbas was one of the places we visited. You could climb all over him – and I mean all over.”

“It seemed a neat device to re-invent the Giant as The Gnome and relocate the lovers from Italy here to Wiltshire. I really do not know how it happened – no notes or build up to it at all. I just began and stopped when it ended.”

As she tells readers in a note in The Lovers of Pound Hill: “I was playing around with these ideas and the way we feel we are so sophisticated and advanced in our ways now compared to the superstitions and rituals of the past, and thinking that for all their being thousands of years old, those rituals and superstitions seemed to be very powerful and exact and full of meaning.”

And it all has a modern message for today’s troubled society.

“My lovers of Valdaro are clearly in an embrace that’s as recognisable today as it was then – it’s loving, between a man and a woman in their prime, and refutes those ideas much beloved by the Flintstones about stone age man hitting his woman with a club by way of foreplay,” she says.

“Tenderness was as much a part of a relationship then as now. What ancient people new and respected and understood was the natural world – something that we seem to have managed to neglect and lose sight of over the years.”

“They understood it ad used it but did not over exploit it. We can’t say we have the same sensitivities.”

For someone from a cosmopolitan London background, a broken early marriage and a career in the art world, Mavis has surprised many by taking off for country life, initially renting a cottage in Ramsbury in 2003.

But it has paid off in distinct ways and style, in particular her creation of the Marlborough Literary Festival last year, which reappears again in September with another array of acclaimed writers for whom literary matters.

Yet, while organising these new events, she has herself delved into archaeological digs, to help provide the authentic background for her new novel. She discovered farmer Martin Green, winner of the Pitt-Rivers award for independent archaeology, who let her loose to dig on his land in Cranborne Chase, in Dorset.

“He was really helpful, a mine of information,” she recalls. “You can go on his farm if you contact him. He will give you a tour. And the book he wrote is great, too.”

“Years ago I did a dig at Winchester Cathedral which was absolutely riveting. Ancient bones and artefacts that you are the first person either to see or touch for hundreds or thousands of years simply take my breath away.”

It is undoubtedly a novel she enjoyed writing, the more so because of its slightly absurd, heightened reality and humorous quality involving so many characters.

“It’s also a book that has almost nothing of me in it, nothing t all auto-biographical, which is something of a freedom after some of my previous novels,” she insists.

“Basically, the message is that love will always triumph over lust, decadence and trash of celebrity culture – or at least in a Cheek novel it will.”

The Lovers of Pound Hill by Mavis Cheek, published by Hutchinson at £12.99.


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Aldbourne Band bring a Gallic 'Vive La France' to The Theatre on The Hill

Friends of Aldbourne Band came up trumps on Saturday when a brand new soprano cornet was presented to the Band out of funds they raised this year.

The presentation took place at the Vive La France concert kindly supported by Clarke and Rodway, Aldbourne Post Office, Tesco and NFU Mutual.

Concert goers attending Viva La France, held at St Johns Theatre on the Hill, were treated to an airing of Benvenuto Cellini by Berlioz, which is to be performed by the  Band at the Spring Festival in Blackpool next weekend.

Other pieces included Softly Awakens my Heart with cornet soloist Richard Hughes and also a superb baritone duet by Lionel Barnes and Ed Latham for Deep Inside the Temple by Bizet. Lionel has been in the band for over 50 years and still enjoys every performance.

The exciting programme was matched by a varied and informative narrative from the Musical Director Dave Johnson.

He also informed the guests that he is doing well on his sponsored diet and will perform the ‘weigh-in’ at the Proms on the Green at 4pm on Sunday 7th August – all monies raised will go towards a new uniform for the Band as the current ones are over 20 years old.

The concert was brought to a rousing climax with a performance of the Finale from Saint-Saens Symphony no 3. 

The audience were then treated to an encore of  Jacques Offenbach's gallop infernal in Orpheus in the Underworld... popularly recognized as the ‘music for the French Can-Can’.

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The Marlborough connection with the remarkable Mr Speaker Bercow

Gerald Isaaman reviews BERCOW – MR SPEAKER by Bobby Friedman (Gibson Square, £17.99)

My MP, the elegantly tall Tory Claire Perry, confronted John Bercow, the miniature man now Mr Speaker, in the Commons tearoom and offered him a surprising sexual delight, to ensure he might call her when she stood up on the green benches.

When the inevitable scandal hit the headlines, not only was she praised for her effrontery, but she claimed that Bercow thought it all hilarious. And Claire declared: “He’s doing a good job – all that stuff about the anti-Speaker campaign is rubbish!”

Bobby Friedman’s compelling biography, sub-headed Rowdy Living in the Tory Party, was completed before this episode happened last month. Yet, remarkably, his opening chapter presents David Cameron standing in a Commons urinal next to a Labour MP and telling him explicitly: “John Bercow doesn’t count.”

All this lewdness is perhaps unfitting in discussing the youngest ever Speaker in Commons’ history or his 14 years as Tory MP for the safe seat of Buckingham, who, more than anything, has tried to tame extravagant excesses – and silly boy antics -- of his parliamentary colleagues.

But it does indeed indicate the passions he rouses within and without his party, the more so because he is brave and vociferous and, more importantly, has undergone an amazing political conversion from arch right-winger wanting to repatriate immigrants to calling for more black and Asian MPs.

He stands out, if nothing else, as someone unafraid to expose the worst of political prejudices and fight for a better, if not necessarily big, society, a formidable champion indeed.

Moreover, he has an amazing wife, Sally, who experimented smoking cannabis while a pupil at Marlborough College. Cameron’s wife Samantha was there are the same time –no guilt by association of course, the more so since Sally wants to become a Labour MP, even party leader.

All of which is a long way from Bercow’s Romanian grandfather, Jack Bercowitch, who escaped anti-semitism to arrive in London at the turn of the last century and become a furrier in Spitalfields. And a long way too from Bercow’s own father, Charles, once a car salesman in London’s once notorious Warren Street, and his non-Jewish wife, Brenda Bailey, a secretary to a legal firm when they met.

Growing up in the North London suburbs, including Margaret Thatcher’s Finchley, young Bercow proved himself a precocious, acne-suffering tiny tot who accepted the “Jew boy” taunts of his school bullies, fighting back with dazzling wit that left them daunted.

He proved himself a tennis ace before politics ruled his ambitions, announcing to his detractors that he would end up in the Cabinet. His talent – and his determination – were steadfast as he headed for Essex University, the chairmanship of the Federation of Conservative Students and a banking job in the City.

BBC political journalist Bobby Friedman, 26, himself a former president of the Students ‘ Union at Cambridge, insists that his biography is neither a hatchet job nor a hagiography.

“People know that they’re reading a book that aims to be scrupulously fair,” he told me. “The reader also knows that everything that’s in it is there on merit.”

He found it an advantage that Bercow refused to co-operate, though not preventing a total of more than friends and contacts talking to him. “They were able to speak more freely and open up, letting me in on the previously unknown stories they had of John and of politics,” he explained.

That was after he chose Bercow as his subject because he always attracted a media frenzy, especially in the run-up to him becoming Speaker. “John is fascinating – his life is a goldmine of great stories, strong emotions and funny anecdotes,” said Friedman.

“As a biographer, it’s incredibly rewarding to have a subject always invoking strong emotion and making waves. John does that in abundance.”

In a wider context, his biography tells the story of a dramatically changing Tory Party following its 1997 defeat by New Labour, how it struggled to revive itself during a period when Bercow went so far left as to resign from the Shadow Cabinet over a three-line whip, to vote against gay adoption.

“The tipping point for John came when he realised that there needed to be a process of change,” he added. “Like any politician, there was an element of expediency, but there has been an undeniable wholesale shift in his views.”

That alienated him from the Tory front bench and brought about the unsuccessful bid to prevent Bercow becoming Speaker. Yet Bercow  continued undaunted, aided in particular by his dazzling wife Sally.

“John’s political transformation, which is perhaps the most remarkable of a generation, was in train long before he and Sally were married,” Friedman pointed out. “But there’s no doubt, though, of how close they are. There’s no doubt that in more recent times Sally’s advice has been an important factor.

“He is a real political character, one of the few left, more’s the pity – and there is plenty more to be had from him.”

The biography very much reflects today’s parliamentary circus where politicians have demoted themselves because of their own cowardly indiscretions and public confidence is shattered.

The result is that we have a sound-bite system that means nothing, the politicians failing to recognise that the electorate are crying out for a fairer system fit for purpose, one in which they can put their trust, instead of being preached too by people out of touch with their desires.

That’s why Speaker Bercow, despite his diminutive nature, does stand above the crowd.

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A Marlborough News Online EXCLUSIVE: first details of how the new NHS will affect the Marlborough area

The coalition government’s basic idea for its reorganisation of the NHS in England is that responsibility and budgets for commissioning health care will move from the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to groups of GP practices – or local ‘consortia’.

When the scheme is up and running, a consortium will have the budget to provide a hip replacement operation and will find the best place within that budget for the patient to have the operation. In doing so they will have to balance the expertise available and its costs with the patient’s newly strengthened right to choose their treatment.

As plans for our local consortium are worked out, Dr Jonathan Glover of the Marlborough Medical Practice will be attending the negotiation meetings in place of Dr Richard Hook who is about to take a sabbatical. Dr Glover told Marlborough News Online about the advice they’ve been given about their consortium’s size.

“So far we have been advised that the bigger the better. The more patients you have in your commissioning group, the louder your voice and the more say-so you will have about what you can ask on your patients’ behalf locally.”

The precise map of the consortium to serve the Marlborough area is not yet settled. But it looks as though the consortium will stretch from Ramsbury in the east to Corsham, Yatton Keynell and Sherston in the west and run south to take in Pewsey. It may even include Devizes.

That’s large – larger than the ‘local consortia’ the White Paper signalled.

“Snap. I was really quite excited about the prospect and thought that what we were going to have was perhaps the equivalent of a slice of cake coming out of Swindon with Wroughton, Chiseldon, Ramsbury, Bedwyn, Burbage, Pewsey and Marlborough. I was really quite excited about a consortium of that size with maybe a hundred thousand patients, but in effect we’re going to be more like 180,000 patients.”

“But the advice from the rest of the country is that if you are much smaller than that you won’t have a voice.”

It is also thought the size of consortia is being set by the need for economies of scale to achieve the government’s promise to cut NHS admin costs by 45% over the next three and a bit years. The average size of consortia already set-up is about 200,000. One in Somerset is said to involve 76 practices and cover 539,000 people and, at the other end of the scale, the one serving the Newquay area of Cornwall covers just 28,000 people.

When the reorganisation was launched, GPs were told that they’d have to take over commissioning whether they liked it or not. As Dr Glover puts it:

“If there’s a ship going, it’s better it leaves with you than without you. So it doesn’t entirely have our blessing but we feel that if it’s going to happen we want to have more of a steering than a passenger role.”

“That’s the reason for our involvement – not because we give it our wholehearted blessing but we feel it’s going to happen anyway.”

Dr Glover is “twitchy” about Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s open support for the wide privatisation of services: “He’s pro it – that needs reining in a little bit.”

And although the NHS Bill’s progress through parliament has been put on pause by the prime minister, work on forming the consortium continues.

“We’re carrying on simply because standing still and waiting for the politicians to make up their minds isn’t really a viable option. We need to be, in part, driving a change if anything’s going to succeed.” The alternative would be “a wishy-washy change that is subject to failure because of lack of drive.”

So far the consortium is being funded by a payment of £2 per patient. It’s not yet clear whether this is a one-off payment. There’s also money available from the savings GPs are currently required to make – some of which will go towards the new admin costs.

2011 is supposed to be the year the consortia shadow the doomed PCTs. So consortia will soon have to start employing people and setting up headquarters.

“You recruit the best team you can and reward them appropriately. Some will be GPs, some existing practice staff and some will come from PCT staff.”

How would Dr Glover react if after this unusual pause in the Bill’s progress, changes were made to get it through the House of Lords that included putting councillors or patients’ representatives onto the consortia’s executive boards?

“I think that’s going to happen anyway. I don’t think that’s out of the question. I don’t know the mechanism, but I’d have no beef with proper community representation - even with voting rights.”

The coalition’s health White Paper laid great stress on putting ‘patients at the heart of the NHS’ stating that ‘Shared decision-making will become the norm: no decision about me without me.’ Might not this cause some bitter conflicts between patients and doctors as choice hits the budgetary wall?

“I think we’re quite well placed as GPs to explain about budgets. The difficulty comes when the change made to one patient’s treatment is there to facilitate another patient’s treatment and that’s where patients will undoubtedly question our decisions – which is everyone’s right.”

So far there are no details of how patient participation groups (which Lansley wants to call Local Involvement Networks or LINks) will be set-up. But Dr Glover believes they must be designed with real ‘teeth’.

Whenever there’s change in this area’s health services the question arises about the future of Savernake Hospital: “We don’t know what’s happening with that at all. It’s much too early. Suffice to say that as a practice we’d like much greater use made of it.”

Dr Glover told Marlborough News Online that from July more use is to be made of it. The out of hours service will be extending the duty doctor’s time there and will be basing a visiting car at the hospital too. This is a re-balancing of the out of hours care between the areas covered from Swindon and from Marlborough.

But Dr Glover adds: “I don’t think we’re going to be given the free rein to run Savernake.”

Top to bottom reorganisation of a huge and multi-layered, multi-skilled body such as the NHS in England is vastly complicated. Dr Glover explains that because of the pause for listening to people’s doubts about the Bill before parliament – if not for re-thinking it – the area’s GPs need to take care as they carry on making their plans.

“We need to be sensible about what we do and not incur excess expenditure in progressing change which might be rewound later. But we still need to look at devising a consortium because otherwise the time will be upon us and we won’t be ready.”

“Even though the political process has -- I don’t think it’s reached an impasse but it’s run into treacly sort of ground and we’re going to have see what happens over the next months.”

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Ten questions for the Chief Constable of Wiltshire.

Gerald Isaaman quizzes Brian Moore in an exclusive interview as he grapples with Government-imposed cuts of £15 million

Q: You have said nothing is sacrosanct in the cuts you are having to make over the next four years? Have you decided yet what the initial ones will be and when they will come into effect?

A: No one in Government, local police or the public has told me what to stop doing so we must try to do everything we’ve always done. Wiltshire Police must save up to £15 million by April 2014 and as part of this process the force is likely to lose up to 150 police officer posts and up to 200 police staff over this period of time.

Nothing is sacrosanct in the sense that to achieve what are significant savings, we are scrutinising and reviewing every area of our business to find efficiencies and identify new ways of working while remaining effective as a police force. However, I am committed to ensuring that Wiltshire Police will keep officers on the streets and protect frontline policing.

This includes, for example, making sure that people in the Marlborough area have the same number of beat officers in their neighbourhood as they do now – as with any other part of the county. Public safety, dealing with crime, anti-social behaviour and issues that concern you and particularly reducing violent crime will continue to remain top priorities for us as a force.

Q: Are you confident that front-line services will not be obviously affected and that residents in Marlborough and elsewhere will hardly notice any immediate changes to the number of bobbies and community police officers on the beat plus police response to emergency calls?

A: I am committed to maintaining frontline policing and I’ll demand of the force we maintain a good service. The approach we are taking in delivering our savings plans is to work from the ‘inside out’ so that we can maximise our savings in the first instance on areas that do not impact directly on the public.

Clearly where we introduce changes in the way we provide operational policing or non-urgent support services I will make sure these are clearly articulated and understood by the public. That isn’t to say there may be some changes in the way we organise our resources to provide a more accessible and flexible police service as we move forward in the future.

An example I’ve given is that if the force decides an officer needs to attend a call that has been made then any available officer may be sent even if they’re a specialist in their own area of expertise, such as a dog handler or armed response officer. By using new technology to best effect we can also keep police out on the streets for longer and know where our nearest officers are in relation to where their assistance is needed the most.

Q: The police cutbacks came as a shock to everyone following the general election, and the Wiltshire Police Authority had some 1,300 responses to its public consultation exercise. What did that tell you about their major concerns about their own lives and the loss of loyal staff?

A:  A number of general themes emerged from the public consultation carried out by the Wiltshire Police Authority. The authority is assessing the responses given by the public, but it was clear that people value their police service highly, they certainly want frontline policing maintained and they expect Wiltshire Police to be accessible and available.

As you would expect, the public want us to tackle crime, keep them safe and answer their emergency calls. People are also very positive about their neighbourhood policing teams.

Q: Did they include any good positive ideas that you have been able to make use of in coping with the demands you face?

A: People were given the opportunity to comment on their police service. A range of suggestions were put forward by the public through both the online survey and at community area board meetings that people attended.

I was surprised about how many people wanted more website access to the police and I’m keen to take that idea forward.

Q: People generally believe that police on the street is the biggest deterrent to crime. Yet the largest number of offences – domestic violence, computer fraud, drug preparation – take place indoors. How can you put that message over more effectively?

A: Wiltshire is one of the safest areas in the country in which to live and work, or visit. The volume of crime has fallen for the last five years and even now as we go into a period of change the force is performing particularly well, which is a credit to all the officers and staff who work for Wiltshire Police.

It is often the unseen crimes that we deal with that do not attract the public’s interest until the perpetrators are dealt with by the courts. Domestic violence is of particular concern to me and we will always deal with this vigorously – Wiltshire Police does not tolerate violent crime in this county.

It is often the case that the crimes that happen in public places are those that gain the highest profile. Wiltshire Police encourages people to come forward to report crimes and incidents so that we have an accurate picture to work on.

Q: There are also hidden activities that you undertake such as counter terrorism measures, intelligence operations on major crimes such as organised child abuse. Will these be deliberately protected from cutbacks?

A: Yes, we have established strong collaborative links across a range of specialist capabilities including working with other south west forces to tackle serious and organised crime. We have a formal arrangement with Avon & Somerset Constabulary to work together on major crime and Special Branch issues and as we move forward we will explore further opportunities both with partner agencies and other police forces, particularly when there is a clear business case to do so. Wiltshire Police is keen to provide services that are as integrated as possible with local authority, health and other community agencies and some of our staff are already working alongside other public sector partners.

However, we will implement some proposals independently to find the savings we need to make in the short term.

Q: What do you see as the most serious problems for the future, the more so when the number of courts is also being reduced and it is more difficult for justice to be seen to be done?

A: All agencies are having to find savings, including those in the justice system. My concern is around maintaining public safety and I am in regular conversation with other justice agencies to talk about how we can best serve the interests of victims and witnesses of crime, while continuing to effectively deal with those responsible for committing crime.

I am worried about the collective impact of cuts on public protection and that is why I am spending a lot of my time encouraging chief executives and leaders to share their plans so that we properly understand the risks. In many ways, we now have the best opportunity in a generation to work together.

Q: Marlborough Police Station was at one time under threat. It could be sold off to raise a substantial sum? Is this being considered again?

A: Wiltshire Police will need to look at which buildings and stations are needed for policing and which will be open to the public. A review of our estate will take place, but until that is done and our plans for how we will best use our operational resources are finalised, it would be premature to reach conclusions about the future of any particular building or station.

Q: What are the current serious and violent crime figures for Wiltshire and will they – and crime figures generally -- inevitably rise given that recession almost always results in an increase in offences, increasing unemployment being one factor?

A: Wiltshire has seen a year-on-year reduction in the total volume of crime over the last five years, despite the recession and the consequent impact this has had on people’s livelihoods. Of course there has been an effect on some crimes such as shoplifting, but the number of house burglaries has gone down, so generally the effect of the downturn has not been reflected in the overall crime rate and is not as significant in the county as it may have been elsewhere.

Our latest crime figures show that Wiltshire has had the lowest volume of violent crime in England for the last three reported months, between December 2010 and February this year – making this county the safest in England for crimes of violence.

Violent crime volume was lower in the last financial year than reported in the previous two years, and serious violent crime volume was lower in the last year (2010-11) than the previous year. Crime and economic theory suggest that some acquisitive crimes like theft might rise but that is easily offset by the improving in-built crime prevention measures in, for example, cars.

There is no evidence to suggest violent crime will rise but there is some evidence that domestic violence can go up if more people lose their jobs. Public place alcohol-related crime can fall because people can’t afford to go to pubs.

Q: It will be sad for you to say farewell to long-serving officers and backroom staff as they leave. What is your message to them as to the future of the police force in Wiltshire?

A: Policing is a primarily people-driven service and around 80% of the Wiltshire Police budget is used to employ staff. There will be fewer police officer posts and police staff roles as the force finds the necessary savings – and of course this is sad for all concerned.

That said, officers and staff understand why the force has to make cuts and many have been supportive in offering suggestions and ideas on how to save money. The cost of policing in Wiltshire is already one of the lowest in the country and is below the national average for forces, but employees of Wiltshire Police are dedicated to providing a first rate service to the public.

Wiltshire Police has a proud pedigree as the oldest county force in the country and people can expect our tradition of upholding the law and maintaining public safety to continue into the future. Some forces are using regulations to enforce retirement after 30 years of service but Wiltshire is not, because we value experience.

We want the right blend of wisdom and youth and we even anticipate some limited recruitment this year as so many people are retiring in the face of a lot of uncertainty.

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All that jazz in Marlborough helps to beat the recession blues

Yolanda Brown, appearing at the Jazz Festival

Recession or not, Marlborough’s International Jazz Festival is already providing evidence that in tough times people want to forget their troubles and enjoy themselves – even listening to the blues.

The weekend July event, selected by the Sunday Times as one of the five best festivals in Britain, has lost only one of its sponsors due to the economic downturn. “But we’ve actually gained three considerable new ones,” revealed Nick Fogg, founder and organiser of the festival.

“I had been thinking that it would be an achievement to get even close to last year’s sponsorship figure. But we’re up on that figure, not by megabucks but enough to give us a sponsorship income of £80,000.”

That is almost half of the £180,000 cost of the festival, whose main sponsors are the Marlborough-based financial investment firm of Brewin Dolphin, whom former Marlborough mayor Mr Fogg describes as “one of our most loyal supporters.”

And he added: “When the Sunday Times picked us out a few years back, it was absolutely fascinating to know that our ticket prices were about a third or a quarter of the other four festivals. So we are really value for money.

“We’re not totally recession proof but we’ve certainly not been torpedoed by the recession so far. We are already getting loads of inquiries and selling tickets before we have even officially launched the festival.”

But while ticket prices have been pegged for the past three years, they have gone up this time. “We had to,” explained Mr Fogg. “But you can still see the whole weekend for £60 and the highest price of £25 for a stroller ticket to see all the events on the Saturday.”

Surprisingly, Mr Fogg is not a born jazz lover, having originally launched  a general music festival in 1986, during his first term as Mayor, only to discover that promoting classical music events was the surest way to lose money.

“Opera is even a safer bet,” he recalled.  “It became obvious that a jazz festival fitted best into the topography of the town. And the jazz festival has grown by a process of evolution over the past 12 years. This year’s will hopefully be the biggest ever.”

One of the major attractions among a galaxy of international performers will be 37-year-old Clare Teal, Britain’s top jazz singer. She is the only jazz artist in recent times to have had a CD in the Top Twenty and twice been winner of the Singer of the Year prize at the British Jazz Awards.

Also on the bill is the American pianist Darius Brubeck and his trio and Frances Ruffelle, the Tony award winning star of Les Miserables, will be there with her septet, along with saxophonist Yolanda Brown, twice winner of the prestigious MOBO award.

And it is a truly international affair, the jazz performers coming from no fewer than 24 different countries, ranging from Argentina, Chile and Italy to Russia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The festival dates are July 15, 16 and 17. For full details of the programme – and tickets – see Marlborough Jazz Festival website.

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MP faces tough questions

The debating chamber at the House of Commons is no bigger than a school hall, and 10 Downing Street has a door that swings open as if by magic – just like Hogwarts.

Secrets of life in government were revealed by Marlborough's MP, Claire Perry, when she faced some of the toughest questioning of her political career – from 70 primary school children.

During her hour-long visit to St Katharine's School, in the heart of the Savernake Forest, Ms Perry – who has three school-age children of her own – revealed to members of the school council that they had far more experience of democracy than she'd had at their age.

“You've already been elected to the council,” she said. “I wasn't elected for anything until I became an MP.”

During a question-and-answer session with the whole school, Ms Perry explained that her job was to represent her constituents, and to help make new laws and abolish old ones – like the red tape that dissuaded grownups from volunteering at schools.

She revealed that David Cameron is a very nice man who is kept awake at night by baby Flo; that when she attended a drinks party at Number 10 the Cameron children were running around in their pyjamas swiping sausage rolls; and that she has no idea exactly how many different laws there are, “probably hundreds of thousands”.

Later, the children demonstrated their knowledge of different laws before voting on one of their own.

Murder, keeping lions in your house, and driving too fast were all against the law, pupils concluded, although when one girl piped up “my mum drives too fast,” the MP was forced to concede that many mums and dads sometimes break the speed limit.

Pupils established that it was the law that they had to go to school from the age of six, but the MP was stumped when one child asked whether it was the law to do your homework.

“Glancing towards the teachers – most of whom were desperately trying to suppress giggles – for support, the MP explained: “No, it's not the law, but if you want to get the most of your schooling you should do your homework.”

Finally, it was time to vote. A motion – proposed by head teacher Sharon Cross – that children should eat five pieces of fruit a day was narrowly defeated after pupils were invited to shout aye or no.

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Judy Golding heads home to Marlborough to celebrate her famed father's centenary

He is your father, a Marlborough schoolmaster who can be strict and stern, but a dad nevertheless who takes you on wild adventures on his beaten up boat and introduces excitement into your life.

At the same time, he is an author, who scribbles away at every chance – and suddenly enjoys world-wide fame, is heaped with praise, wins the Nobel Prize for literature and is knighted by the Queen.

Judy Carver has had a difficult time coming to terms with the death of Sir William Golding, famed author of Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors, and when he died in 1993 was asked by his publishers Faber to consider writing a memoir.

And only now – next week in fact – The Children of Lovers, her poignant tribute to her father in the centenary year of his birth, finally appears.

"I’d often wondered, even before my father’s death, if I would be able to write anything about him,” she tells me. “I spent years, probably six or seven, writing and rewriting, and doing research into his life, as well as talking to people who knew him.  Eventually, I realised that I was trying to write a biography of him, and this task was something that should be done by someone else.  John Carey agreed to undertake the biography and has of course produced a brilliant one."

“We are tremendously lucky.  I was lucky in particular, because I realised that once there was a biography I was free to write my own more personal account, one not tied to a chronological frame."

“I did indeed want to provide a family perspective, and to come to terms with the past.  I also wanted to tell the story of my brother David and myself, and David was generous in letting me do that."

“After my father’s death, there was a large amount of management connected with his works and with my parents’ wills.  All of that distracted me, but it also meant I was relieved to get to actual writing, which of course is not always the case.”

Then, almost emulating her father, she reveals: “I did it when I could, any time of day and in any place.  There are many cafés in which I’ve written it, many trains – even buses.”

Returning to Marlborough – she now lives in Bristol – helped revive her memories of the family house at No 29 The Green, which her father described as “three slumped storeys’ of lath and plaster, with a crazily gabled porch”, which is now adorned with a commemorative plaque.

"I’ve always loved coming back to Marlborough,” she says.  “As soon as I had a car of my own, I would make sure my trips between home and Oxford included Marlborough, together with a nostalgic wander round familiar landmarks."

“I climbed into St Mary’s Churchyard once with my brother, and we gazed over the wall into the garden of 29 The Green.”  Some critics claim that her father had a dark side that made him a difficult man who argued too much, but she doesn’t totally accept that. Indeed, John Carey’s biography painted him as a many-sided figure, a family man, a reclusive depressive who suffered from fears and phobias and considered himself 'a monster'.  However, some of the press coverage did have a very particular emphasis.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that some people have rather harped n his darker side,” she admits. “People are complicated – and I have tried to give an honest and therefore complicated picture of him."

“But part of that picture is his kindness and generosity, and his humour. I wish that could be given as much prominence as the darker aspects."

“But it’s human nature to want people to be all one thing or all the other, all sweet or all sour. My father himself, in his writing, tried over and over again to show how we are a mixture.”

And while some claim that Marlborough has truly recognised the genius in its midst, Judy is content.

“Marlborough has done several things to commemorate my father,” she points out.  “There is the lovely plaque on the wall of No 29. There is also a Golding Avenue among some newish roads off the Bath Road."

“And he was asked back to St John’s Comprehensive.  I think they asked him to give prizes or possibly a speech". St John’s was formerly Marlborough Grammar School, his old school, as well as the one his father taught at.  

“It’s true that not all of my father’s memories of his home town were happy – I expect that’s true for most people – and I noticed he was curiously unwilling to revisit it."

“His past was very powerful to him and very present in his mind, and I expect he was unwilling to re-experience many of his memories, or even perhaps to risk blunting those memories with newer ones.  He felt the deaths of his parents very deeply.  He told me it had taken him thirty years to get over those deaths.”

Now Judy is enjoying a new experience, talking at literary festivals about her memoir, as she did at the Oxford festival alongside biographer John Carey, John Gray and Penelope Lively.

And she will repeating the “extraordinary experience” at the forthcoming Marlborough Festival of Literature, which runs from September 22 to 25.

“I found it all fascinating,” she says.  “We had a wonderful audience, very responsive and tremendously well-informed. Interestingly, given that many people think of Golding as quite a dark novelist, there was a lot of laughter.  

“He would have been pleased about that – he was actually a very funny man."   The Golding event involved showing parts of two BBC documentaries about him – and I did find that both strange and acutely moving, seeing my relatively young father striding across Salisbury Cathedral Close or Old Sarum.  

“And there were some lovely shots of our boat Wild Rose, which I was delighted to see.”


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Lord of the Flies takes off with a centenary edition to mark William Golding’s birth

Centenary editions of his bestselling novels Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors are to be published by Faber to mark the 100 years since the birth of William Golding, Marlborough’s sole Nobel prize-winner.

The special editions will carry a golden stamp announcing the anniversary, and will have new, specially commissioned introductions. One  is by Stephen King, author of The Shining, who has written the introduction to Lord of the Flies, originally published in 1954.

And Professor John Carey, author of the major Golding biography, published two years ago, has written the introduction to The Inheritors.

This was Golding's second novel, first published in 1955, with a plot that revolves around the extinction of the last tribe of Neanderthals. Both centenary editions will appear on August 4 as paperbacks costing only £7.99 each.

Golding, who lived on The Green, Marlborough, where there is a commemorative plaque on his house, was an unknown schoolmaster, who wrote in school breaks. The Lord of the Flies was rejected by numerous publishers before being picked from the reject pile at Faber.

"It is always a thrill to find a reason to look again at William Golding's fiction, and the centenary year offers just this opportunity," Hannah Griffiths, director of Faber’s paperbacks, tells The Bookseller.

"Stephen King and John Carey have written wonderful introductions, and Neil Gower's inspired new illustrations for these editions make a beautiful addition to Golding's design history".

"Golding is a phenomenal Nobel Prize-winning author, but people think of one book . . . We are trying to give the reader a cue to say, 'if you love that, you'll love this, too."

Faber is also publishing a memoir by Golding's daughter, Judy Carver, next month called The Children of Lovers. It tells of her experiences growing up as her father became a famous novelist, as well as her adult reflections on his work.

She will be returning to Marlborough in September to talk about her memories at the Marlborough Literary Festival.

Faber will be backing the new editions and celebrating the anniversary year with publicity and a consumer campaign, with a display of Golding's manuscripts also to be on show at the Bodleian Library from 5 to November 23. The display will include the Lord of the Flies manuscript, with other exhibits drawn from previously unseen archives held by Faber and the Bodleian's collections.

Golding, also a poet and playwright, won the Booker Prize in 1980, was made a Nobel laureate in 1983 and was knighted by the Queen in 1988. He died in 1993, aged 81.


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The spy who came in from the cold at the Outside Chance in Manton

Adam Sisman, biographer of John le Carré

----EXCLUSIVE---- to Marlborough News Online

No doubt it was the perfect spot to discuss the perfect spy, a pub tucked away from prying eyes at Manton, just down the road from Marlborough.

And with a name like the Outside Chance, it might well have appeared in the pages of John le Carré’s novels of espionage and betrayal,  deception and deadly deeds that have enthralled millions of dedicated readers.

For Manton was where the acclaimed biographer Adam Sisman met up for lunch with political journalist turned successful novelist Robert Harris, and gently plotted about which of them was to write the biography of David John Moore Cornwell.

That is the real name of John le Carré, smash hit author of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and a succession of  admired novels, 21 so far, that have become celebrated films and TV adaptations.

Now snowy-haired and approaching 80 in October, he has invited Adam Sisman, now a citizen of Bath after once living on the other side of Hampstead Heath, where le Carré has his London home, to delve into his fascinating secret past.
 The aim – to write the definitive, independent and unmolested biography – that Sisman proposed calling A Life Unmasked.
“David suggested another title – Cover Story,” Adam recalls amusingly of one of their first assignations with le Carré in a Hampstead pub.

And he ruefully adds: “I am aware that a biography of le Carré  presents particular problems because so much of his life has been spent concealing himself, both as a spy and a ‘fabulator’. But I am nonetheless confident of uncovering the man behind the disguises.”

He is well experienced in the long haul – Bloomsbury plan to publish on the 50th anniversary of the Spy Who Come in from the Cold in 2014 – having produced a highly praised biography last summer of the controversial historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. He is also the author of earlier works on AJP Taylor, Boswell and the friendship between Wordsworth and Coleridge.

But he had  rivals in the field when it came to le Carré.
 Some 20 years ago, the political journalist and novelist Robert Harris, who lives at Kintbury, signed a contract for an unauthorised biography of le Carré, who asked for it to appear after his death.

Harris’ researches led him to interview le Carré’s now late first wife, they gave him access to previously unseen correspondence, and he wrote some 30,000 words in note form.

Then another writer, Graham Lord, proposed his own expose version on the former British intelligence officer – he served as a member of the diplomatic corps in our embassies in Bonn and Hamburg -- whose inside knowledge of espionage has given his novels such vivid authenticity.

Lord, now living in the Caribbean, backed down when le Carré challenged him. Meanwhile, Harris took off on another track, developing his own very successful career as the author of Fatherland, Pompeii and The Ghost Writer, declaring that his le Carré was more or less on permanent hold.

And, supreme surprise, when Sisman came to lunch with Harris at the Outside Chance, in Manton, it was Harris himself who suggested to Sisman that he should try to lift the lid on the Berlin Wall spy and  creator of Smiley’s People and The Perfect Spy.

“Robert and I are friends, not rivals,” 57-year-old Adam now reveals. “I am a huge admirer of his work, and he has written very kind reviews of two of my books. We often talk to each other about what we’re doing.

“I had been contemplating a life of le Carré for years and we have discussed it together several times. About a year ago, after I finished my biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, I had lunch with Robert, and it was he who encouraged me to approach David Cornwell.

“So I wrote to him.”

It was a pivotal moment for Adam, who joined the horde of le Carré fans after reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold when only 12 or 13, seeing Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in the movie version, and reading his novels, often more than once, Tinker, Tailor at least a dozen times.

“One of his secrets is a superbly accurate ear for the way people speak – as good as that of any other English writer in my opinion,” he insists, describing Tinker Tailor as “a superbly constructed novel, rich and satisfying, peopled by wonderfully vivid characters.”

On his part,  le Carré admired his Trevor-Roper biography. “And he decided – and importantly his wife Jane too -- that I would be an appropriate person to write his life,” says Adam with evident satisfaction.

“He has given me exclusive access to his archive, to himself, and to the important people in his life – ‘the keys to the kingdom’, as his agent put it. Nevertheless, we agreed that we both wanted to have an arms’ length arrangement, so that I will have a free hand and David will not have control over what I write.”

That means trips to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, where le Carré has deposited his manuscripts – he handwrites every word, corrects it and then his wife, Jane, types it up – and also to Cornwall, where le Carré’s extensive personal papers are stored.

He plans to visit Sherborne, the public school in Dorset from which le Carré’s ran away during a fraught, unhappy childhood, and will go to Eton, where le Carré taught for two years after coming down from Oxford with a first class degree with honours in modern languages.

There is a list too of interviewees that grows in number virtually daily.

“And I shall have to go round the world, to America, to Russia, to Germany and Switzerland,” he adds, almost with glee at the prospect of spying on the once master spywriter whose fiction has fascinated millions, all the settings of them in actual places he has visited.

There are also le Carré’s four sons, three from his first marriage, to meet as well.

“When David told them that I was writing this biography, his son said: ‘Oh good! -- we shall all be able to find out from it what you’re really like,’” Adam subversively reveals.

He is indeed the beneficiary of an outside chance.

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An historic moment to celebrate Marlborough’s jewel in the High Street

Sir John Sykes, Chairman, The Merchant's House

The Merchant’s House, for 350 years the surviving jewel in Marlborough’s High Street, has opened its doors to visitors for the new season – and with new determination, writes Jeffrey Galvin-Wright.

This year, the charitable trust which runs the magnificent property, celebrates its 20th anniversary since its formation in 1991, a vital moment for optimism for the future says its chairman, Sir John Sykes.

Following an initiative from locally born and bred Michael Gray, now the historical adviser to the trust, it was the far-sighted decision of Marlborough Town Council to purchase The Merchant’s House for the town from WH Smith, for £335,000 in 1991.

That enabled the trust to be set up under the chairmanship of Sir John Sykes, with the objective of raising the funds necessary to restore the property and open it to the public.   

Since then the passionate efforts of Sir John and his team to save the house for posterity have raised nearly £1 million through grants, donations and fund-raising events.   The unplanned, but very welcome grant from the late Kennet District Council in 2009, cleared the trust’s outstanding mortgage and confirmed its economic viability.   

What has been achieved in the refurbishment of the iconic 17th century house, rebuilt by Thomas Bayly, a prosperous Marlborough silk merchant, after the Great Fire in 1653, has been truly amazing.   

During the conservation work, unique wall paintings were discovered, both on the staircase and on the walls of the dining room, and most recently during the restoration of the bedroom over the kitchen.   

Painstakingly restored by experts, these unique striped wall paintings enhance this visitor attraction, one which features in Simon Jenkins’s book England’s Thousand Best Houses.

Earlier years have seen refurbishment of the shop, main staircase, cellars, grand panelled room, dining room and Thomas Bayly’s study, but more recently the trust has been able to afford to carry out work on the servant’s garrets, the kitchen chamber, and repairs to the servant’s staircase, as well as purchasing a 17th century dining table and other appropriate furnishings.   

More restoration work is planned as and when funds become available.

The trust relies on more than one hundred volunteers to keep The Merchant’s House running smoothly.   In total, they donate  240 hours of voluntary effort each week, serving in the shop, giving conducted tours of the house, organising events, costume making, working on the turkeywork dining chairs project, restoration work and maintenance in the garden.   

The trust houses a comprehensive library specialising in local history, 17th century history, craftsmanship history and a growing archive of items relating to Marlborough over the centuries.   

Many volunteers are also Friends of The Merchant’s House.   The ‘Friends’ is a large and committed group, around 400 strong, which supports the work of the trust and in return receives membership benefits.

Behind the house, a 17th century style garden has been constructed.   The design, construction and planting have been carefully researched, so that the garden is as accurate as possible to the style of a formal yet utilitarian town-house garden which would have existed in the mid to late 17th century, belonging to a Puritan family.

Sir John says: “ The project continues to challenge and enthuse everyone involved in it as well as our visitors.   We enter 2011 with optimism and in good shape but local support remains vital.   

“Not only are we restoring and furnishing the building to an exceptional standard, but the many ways in which we use the house are playing a major part in enhancing the cultural and educational life of the town, and making it a must-visit tourist attraction”.

The Merchant’s House and the garden is now open to visitors until the end of October on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am-4pm.   Entrance is £5 for adults.   Under 16s £1.    Or why not visit the house on its free open day -- on Saturday 21 May.   

More information on our web site

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