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42 years in Britain - 37 years in broadcasting
uploaded : Thursday 18th Oct 2018 at 18:07
by : Carol Gould
I came to the UK in 1976 for postgraduate studies in theatre and film with my American university, Temple, and our tutors included BBC2 Director General Kenneth Adam and legendary documentary producer Edgar Anstey. I was researching the history of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop Stratford East and eventually transferred to University of Kent at Canterbury. I was very lucky to be given several work permits to take various interesting jobs - it is still customary for Americans to enjoy working, often in multiple jobs, during high school, college and graduate school. I will never forget Bonnie Greer on BBC ‘Question Time’ several years ago, when students here were protesting tuition fees, saying she had flipped burgers throughout college but still achieved an honours degree.
My play, ‘A Chamber Group,’ based on my experiences at Dartington Summer Music School with Peter Maxwell Davies and the Fires of London, was well-received at the Edinburgh festival in 1980 and I decided it was time to go back to the USA. In January 1981 was packing books in newspaper when I noticed an advert for a Drama executive at Anglia TV. I rang the number and was asked to come in to their Park lane offices for an interview that afternoon. I had my death of flu but attended – Sir John Woolf and John Rosenberg, heads of drama, passed a small box to me and asked me to open it. Inside was a lone, stale, bent cigarette! Sir John said,’ Go ahead – light up!’ I refused and they beamed.
Kevin Goldstein-Jackson, whose job I would be taking, asked me afterwards if I had passed the ‘cigarette test.’ He said many had come and gone and all had lit up. I got the job. Later I learned that they also needed an American for the post but employment rules prohibited a nationality being specified on an advertisement. They had lost much money on a production with Joan Collins about an adulterous vicar played by John Alderton, because the US buyers had refused the film. They needed an American to judge scripts before they were filmed. I joked at the time to friends ‘Gee, thanks! Nothing to do with my CV, just the fact that I am not a smoker!'
A positive reason as to why I got the job was the fact that my old friend Jenia Reissar, Anglia –Romulus casting director who had worked with Selznick at MGM , had got to know me when I was administrator of the Almost Free theatre for Ed Berman and Jenia, already in her 70s, had come to all of my theatre productions. She had told Sir John and John Rosenberg they must hire me. What followed were eleven years of working with British geniuses.
A truly magical moment for me was Jenia’s eightieth birthday in 1984. Sir John and LadyWoolf invited me to join a small group at Scott’s of Mayfair that included John Schlesinger, Fred Zinnemann, John Huston, Lewis Gilbert, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jack Clayton and of course John Rosenberg. Jenia had been casting director and production associate on films made by David O Selznick and later by the Woolf brothers at Romulus Films. (The book ‘Memo from David O Selznick’ is full of references to ‘Miss Reissar.’ ) Those were the days long before selfies and as far as I know there were no photographs of this extraordinary gathering. That evening I rang my mother – she shared the August 30 birthday with Jenia ! - and told her the bill at Scott’s was £538 – nowadays I expect it would have been many multiples..
Jenia Reissar, born in Tashkent to a mixed Jewish-Christian couple, came to Ireland to escape the Boshevik Revolution and was housed by the family of the governess, Miss Houston, who had looked after the Reissar children in Russia. Though a young Jenia wanted to train to be a doctor she settled for a secretarial course and saw an advertisement by the author Edgar Wallace for a personal assistant. She worked for him for many years, taking dictation well into the wee hours. After a career in Hollywood she came back to Britain to work for the Woolf brothers on a string of internationally-acclaimed motion pictures. Sir John founded Anglia Television Drama in the 1950s and Jenia became casting director at the Park lane offices. We were always the first to arrive at work in the early morning hours and she would come to my office like clockwork at 0830 to regale me with stories about ‘Vivien’ (Leigh;) ‘Daphne’ (duMaurier) and ‘Ingrid’ (Bergman.) She would rail against various decisions Anglia TV had made and moan to me about ‘these idiots’ running the company but as soon as Sir John walked through the door each morning she became a kitten.
My mother had so wanted me to come home but when she started to see my name on the screen credits of our programmes on American prime-time television she said ‘stay there.’ I was credited on 65 international drama productions. We tended to use older and old stars in staid, broadly popular material and were known as ‘19th century Fox’ but we produced such high-class material for ITV and overseas that we became known as the Rolls Royce of ITV.
One day Rex Harrison came to our offices to see us about an upcoming production. He tipped his hat to me – the authentic Henry Higgins hat - and asked if he could ring his agent from my office telephone. He sat opposite me at my desk and my twenty-eight-year-old heart was racing. He had been my teenage crush. He thanked me profusely and when he left I did something I had never done before – called my mum long-distance to tell her Rex Harrison had just touched my telephone!
It took me six months to extricate the television rights to Terence Rattigan’s ‘Cause Celebre’ and one day Sir John Woolf came into my office with a rare smile on his face and holding a telex in his hand. He said ,’You may wish to frame this.’ The telex was from our solicitors, Bartletts de Reya- now Mishcon – and it said ‘John, if you continue using Carol Gould we fear you may not need us any more.’ Whilst we were filming Cause Celebre in 1987 our star, Helen Mirren, received the offer to play the lead in ‘Prime Suspect’ and our other star, David Suchet, received the offer to appear as ‘Poirot.’
In 1981 I had visited the set of ‘Evil Under the Sun,’ the Brabourne Productions film of the Agatha Christie thriller. Denis Quilley had starred as an airline pilot in an Anglia ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ episode entitled ‘Hijack’ invited me to join him in Majorca during the Agatha Christie location filming . (Denis and I had met the year before when he was the lead in ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Drury Lane Theatre and I was a trainee director at English National Opera under the tutelage of Jonathan Miller and Joachim Herz. ) We used to meet in the ‘Nell of Old Drury’ pub – Denis, a brilliant singer, loved looking through the opera scores I carried with me, most particularly ‘Arabella’ by Richard Strauss.
Denis and I travelled around the island and explored off-the-beaten-track villages; we wanted to see non-touristy areas. We had exquisite meals in small bistros- - family-run establishments. Denis was fifty-three and I was twenty-seven; the proprietors wherever we travelled thought I was his daughter. We were terribly fond of each other and he, soon to star in ‘Mack and Mabel’ at Nottingham Playhouse , was always singing , ‘I won’t send roses..’ to me in the car and wherever we went. (It is indelibly etched on my memory bank that on the day I went to Nottingham to see Denis in the show Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated. What I loved about Denis was his intense interest in politics and world affairs and we talked well into the wee hours about the consequences of this tragedy..)
Other moments forever etched in my memory were meals al fresco on the ‘Evil Under the Sun’ set with Denis, Peter Ustinov, Roddy McDowall, Diana Rigg,, Maggie Smith, Colin Blakely, James Mason, Nicholas Clay and Sylvia Miles. I adored Roddy – we hit it off like a house on fire. Denis told me Roddy was upset that I was spending so much time with him but he never had a day off to spend with me when Denis was working. To this day I wish I had asked Roddy for prints of the masses of photographs he had taken with me; after he died I wrote to his agent but never received a reply.
The Northern Irish actor Colin Blakely had a day off filming and asked me if I would ‘caddy’ for him at the local golf course. His ‘opponent’ was a German tourist, Gerd Littauer. I couldn’t help looking at the name tags on his bag and wondering what he had done in the war. This was 1981 and he was about 60. My mental calculations put him in the Wehrmacht... That evening on the way back to the film location village Colin said to me, ‘Well, what do you think of that ? A Northern Irishman, a Jewish American girl and a German enjoying a day out in Spain.’ The irony wasn’t lost on me.
Roddy McDowall kept in touch with me after the film had wrapped, sending me postcards from various locations around the world. One day a huge bouquet of flowers arrived at my office at Anglia Television – from his dear friend Elizabeth Taylor. Roddy had told her I was drama commissioning editor and in her note to me she asked if I could find her a part in a ‘Tale of the Unexpected.’
John Rosenberg and I were never able to find the right vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor but when she came to London to appear in ‘The Little Foxes’ Sir John and Lady Woolf invited me to the opening night. (Side story – when I was a young teenager I used to visit the set of the soap opera ‘Dark Shadows’ in New York when my sister was an executive with the Metropolitan Opera. One of its stars, Humbert Allen Astredo, took a shine to me – I was 15! – and chaperoned by my sister took me out in New York and send me red roses. Fast forward to the 1980s and Humbert was the lead in ‘The Little Foxes’ in London and we were able to have a long-overdue rendezvous ...)
I had told my mother never to ring me in the office unless there was a family catastrophe, but one afternoon at two o’clock London time – nine AM her time – she rang and said ‘Shh! Shh! Listen! Listen to this!’ In the background I could hear a voice from heaven – she held up the telephone receiver so I could hear an opera coaching session my sister was holding in her apartment. Mum said, ‘Your sister has been sent this young girl – she is a student at Curtis – remember her name – she will be one of the greats of opera – her name is Renee Fleming.’ To this day my sister tells me Renee keeps a ticket aside for her when she performs in Philadelphia.
One afternoon I was in a supermarket with my colleague, our younger casting director, Pat Jarvis. The cashier asked for ID when we proffered credit cards. Pat, an unassuming woman of supreme humility, held up her TV Times magazine where our names were listed on a production and uncharacteristically snapped, ‘THAT is me! THAT is Carol!’ It happened that in that week we had FIVE shows on in primetime including the TV Times cover. The cashier processed our payments without further ado. I loved that moment.
My office overlooked Hyde Park and on 20th July , 1982 the large window behind me shook. It was terrifying – I thought the glass would collapse upon me. A few minutes later my worried mother in Philadelphia rang my office to tell me an IRA bomb had exploded in the park. Later that day I went into a meeting with John Jacobs, who was to direct a ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ story, ‘The Vorpal Blade.’ His telephone rang and it was my mother again – another bomb had exploded in the grandstand in Regent’s Park. Shortly thereafter a directive came through from Anglia TV management that we must all make our way home. I vividly remember being terrified that yet another explosion would occur on my route home and was so relieved to shut my door behind me. Eleven soldiers and seven horses perished in the atrocities.
My time at Anglia Television was tinged with sadness as well as joy. One of the young producers of ‘Tales of the Unexpected,’ Graham Williams, died in an accident at home cleaning a hunting rifle. Sir John’s charming son, Jeremy, committed suicide at the tender age of twenty-eight – a tragedy from which I believe Lady Woolf never recovered. (During the shiva for Jeremy I met Rabbi Hugo Gryn and in turn befriended his daughter Naomi. John Rosenberg and I always felt she could have been a great drama director but she was badly injured in an horrific automobile accident in Israel and after a long recovery stayed in documentary production.) One of our great film editors was killed in a motorway accident on his way to our studios in Norwich.
Sir John vehemently disagreed with John Rosenberg and me about the potential popularity of the novels of PD James. In Majorca with Denis Quilley in 1981 he had urged me to think about filming her novel ‘Innocent Blood.’ Being a father of adopted children he found the novel, about a young woman seeking her biological parents, deeply moving. When I read it I thought it was a masterpiece but it was already under option to Twentieth Century Fox and John Rosenberg decided to go to the Board about optioning Phyllis (PD) James’s ‘’Death of An Expert Witness.’ Sir John fulminated at me that he’d never encountered anything so dreary in all his life but ‘JR’ as we called him, and I managed to convince him to fund a production. I convinced Sir John that Roy Marsden would become a huge star playing Inspector Dalgleish and he was signed for the first six-part adaptation. The rest is history – we made five more series over the next ten years.
Filming in Westbourne Grove one morning we were confronted by angry Jamaican Yardies. They had arrived in a convoy of limousines and challenged our actors, dressed as policemen, to leave their territory. It was a frightening situation but also a hoot – they realised we were filming a television drama and next thing we knew they became sweet as pie and were asking if they could be extras! (The supremely diplomatic John Rosenberg explained to them that union rules precluded that but we let them have free rein watching our work over the next few days.) Was I ever glad to get back to sleepy Norfolk to finish our location filming...
One of the most memorable periods of location filming came in August, 1990 when we were based in Blakeney Point, Norfolk, recording ‘Devices and Desires.’ We were each accommodated in a lovely private chalet. The weather was unusually hot; one day I decided to take a long walk along one of the many deserted roads but quickly realised the sun was going to kill me if I did not find shelter somewhere. Luckily one of our stars, James Faulkner and his family came along in their car and rescued me. That was one of my nine lives saved . Most sweltering evenings our other star, Susannah York, PD ‘Phyllis’ James and I sat outside discussing politics, religion and world affairs well into the wee hours.
We were filming one afternoon when the roar of military aircraft thundered overhead. John Rosenberg rang the chief of the nearby US-UK airbase to complain that he had had their undertaking that no aerial exercises would take place during production hours. I could see that John was incandescent; eventually we had to stop work and the Pound signs being lost were writ large in his eyes. To our utter shock and horror this was the onset of Operation Desert Storm – the first Iraq war and America and Britain’s response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Somehow we managed to complete production but I will never forget the sound of a Stealth bomber taking off...
Sadly John was already so ill from stomach and oesophageal cancer and punishing chemotherapy that he wore a warm Barbour jacket whilst on location in the hot weather. In January 1991 I went to visit him at the Princess Grace Hospital and despite being near to the end he managed to give me a worried look as he watched live footage of Scud missiles thought to be headed for Tel Aviv. John died later that day ; there was an extraordinary sunset over London and I like to think it was his dear soul ascending to heaven.
I adored Phyllis James and kept in touch with her and with her larger-than-life agent, Elaine Greene, long after I left Anglia. Framed on my wall to this day is a letter from Phyllis, ‘Your letter notifying me that you are leaving Anglia Films/Anglia Television Group arrived this morning and this is just a note to send you my warmest good wishes for every happiness and success in your future life and career, and to say how grateful I am for all you did to help dear John [Rosenberg] make such a success of the Dalgliesh television series. Yours affectionately, Phyllis (Baroness James of Holland Park)
One of my fondest Anglia memories was John the New York native coming into my office with his hand held out. He didn’t have to say anything – I reached into my desk drawer and out came my supply of American candy corn. He adored it. When I visited home I brought back bags of this and of Tootsie Rolls and James’s Salt water Taffy, which John also loved. Despite his posh accent John was a New Yorker at heart and often lapsed into Yiddish with me. He also enjoyed a passion for baseball, as did I, and I would report to him on the latest scores provided in weekly phonecalls with my mother, also a baseball devotee.
Despite our broadcasts being acclaimed John Rosenberg and I had problems near the end of my time there in the late 1980s when Graeme McDonald came to Anglia from the BBC. We were about to produce a major series, ‘Spitfire Girls,’ based upon my fourteen-hour treatment, about the women pilots of Air Transport Auxiliary in WW2, but Graeme scuppered the project, saying he ‘couldn’t think of anything more boring than a bunch of women getting in and out of aircraft.’ John Rosenberg encouraged me to write it as a book which Ros de Lanerolle at The Women’s Press loved but the project was dropped when Nail Attallah took over. (It was published in hardback in 1998 by Black Ace Books and in paperback by Random House in 2009.)
Graeme’s cracks about Jews were disturbing – when my mother and aunt died and I had to do a double-mourning period in the USA, he asked me when I came back, ‘What is it – the air in Philadelphia that kills off these Jewish old ladies? ‘ and threatened me with an employment sanction, ‘constructive dismissal,’ for taking three weeks abroad for the two traditional Jewish periods of mourning. John Rosenberg stopped this but the stress of dealing daily with Graeme made John very ill and he died of cancer at 58.
By then Margaret Thatcher had deregulated ITV because of her grudge against Thames Television (they had infuriated her with their film about the IRA and SAS in Gibraltar – ‘Death on the Rock’ ) and the drama department and our legendary wildlife series ‘Survival’ were shut down. We were at the height of our international success but all ITV companies had to shut down production in order to give the Prime Minister’s Chancellor a sealed money bid to re-licence our franchises. Anglia’s Chairman told me we were all ‘long in the tooth’ – I was 37—and were producing excessively’ high-brow’ material – despite our staggeringly high viewing figures -- but I was so lucky – I was poached by JE Entertainment – now EnDeMol – for a fabulous salary – to be their Drama Development Executive. It was both an exciting time but also disturbing – I had been warned by the UK TV producer Richard Price that JE were known as the ‘great white company’ and indeed they ordered me to fire my black secretary Roberta because ‘the shvartzers stink up the furniture.’ Roberta took them to Westminster race relations tribunal but by then JE – who had refused to give me Christmas day off as it wasn’t my holiday – were in trouble with the Writers’Guild of Great Britain and had decided to leave the UK.
I decided at the age of 38 to go back to my original love and start from scratch as a documentary producer and journalist. Over the next few years I was successful in every Arts Council and Lottery grant application I made and was thrilled that my first film, ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day,’ about Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the year following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was well-received at the 1997 Berlin Film Festival.
My first big journalism break came with a major piece in the Guardian in 2004 about anti-Americanism – Jonathan Dimbleby and Michael Portillo invited me onto their programmes as a result. From there I began to be engaged by the BBC and other broadcasters as a political commentator. One of my biggest thrills was being on ‘The Moral Maze’ despite the brutal tongue-lashings I received from Giles Fraser and another panellist whose name now escapes me. Had my old pal Claire Fox not been on with Melanie Phillips I think I might have started crying. These two men’s USA-hatred was palpable.
My most memorable ‘Any Questions?’ broadcast came in 2010 when James Delingpole and I had swotted the week before on stories we expected to be featured on the programme – Russia and Georgia, the US midterm elections, Israel etc. Came the night of the broadcast and the first question was about the cruelty of pedigree pet shows. I thought I would die when Dimbleby asked me to answer first. Luckily one of my closest friends was a cat breeder so I got a big hand from the audience when I said ‘I am a cat person’ but when the next question was about the Amber Alert rule in the USA James passed me a note saying ‘Is this not the worst nightmare of your life?’ !!
1.Two ladies in burkhas in Edgware Road stopped me one Saturday, gesticulating wildly; another woman came over and translated. She explained: they had seen me the evening before on the live Iranian Al –Alam TV version of ‘Question Time’ and were excited that I was the first woman ever to appear on the panel. They insisted – even though they hated my views on Israel - I autograph their paper bags full of fruit.
2.In the heyday of Iranian PressTV, before the British government banned them from the UK airwaves for excessive anti-Israel bias, I did enjoy being on an assortment of excellent debate programmes hosted by Nick Ferrari, Andrew Gilligan, Yvonne Ridley and Lauren Booth. Some had live audiences ; at times this could be intimidating but I held my own. Nick used to seat me next to him and squeeze my hand when rabid Israel/USA-haters like Abdel Bari Atwan screamed at me ‘as we sit here 3,000 of my brothers are being massacred by your country!’
3.Some of my most interesting encounters have been as a regular panellist on Iranian Al Kawthar, the Ayatollahs’ channel, and Al-Alam. I was always up against debaters in Cairo, Teheran, Damascus, Amman , Kabul and occasionally the UK but after a few years of becoming enraged by their outlandish accusations – for example, Israel instigating 9/11 and the Arab Spring – I learned to smile and even laugh at times. On one occasion the head of PR for Hezbollah was my opponent on a broadcast but he refused to sit facing me so he was placed with his back to me. At various times during the programme he and the Iranian host became apoplectic when I calmly mentioned that with all its faults Israel held one of the biggest annual Gay Pride parades in the world, that a gay couple can walk hand in hand along the beach in Tel Aviv and that women held down responsible posts. What is good is that these programmes were on the Press TV website for a year or so afterwards and my comments about Israel were not edited out.
Turkish television used to host me on a regular basis for many years on HMS President’s studio facility but one day last year the producer told me pre-broadcast ‘You are forbidden from saying anything nice about Israel!’ I did anyway and he began sweating profusely during the live transmission. Needless to say I was not asked back.
In recent years the Iranian stations in London have had sanctions placed on them and their broadcasts blocked but this past May I was invited back to be a featured speaker on a major full-length Al Alam documentary about the USA and Iran.
4. I was about to go live on air on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions?’ when host Jonathan Dimbleby turned to me and said ‘And none of your Zionist propaganda, Carol Gould.’ He was not joking.
On the way to another ‘Any Questions?’ broadcast Lord McNally refused to speak to me in the car from the train station to the venue or at the dinner Dimbleby always lays on before the programme. I later learned that he and fellow Lib Dem Jenny Tonge loathed me as a ‘Zionist propagandist.’ LOL, as they say.
5.I was invited onto Victoria Derbyshire’s Radio 5 Live programme after a school gun massacre in the USA. In the green room a journalist from the Observer paced the room spewing pure hatred at me about ‘You Americans’ and asked me where I kept my gun. He grabbed my lanyard and demanded to know what qualifications I had to talk about ANYTHING and at that point I decided to leave but just then the producer came along to usher us into the studio. To my astonishment once the live broadcast commenced he was as sweet as pie to me.
6.After my first year with Anglia Television Christmas rolled around and I noticed I had not received a Christmas bonus. I realised I had not done a full twelve months having started on 3 February but thought the company might have given me a ‘pro-rata’ bonus. I told my Drama department bosses John Rosenberg and Sir John Woolf, two of only four Jews in the workforce of 880, both of whom acknowledged that the management was not particularly well-disposed towards our tribe. It was made clear to me that Sir John’s vast investment in Anglia Group and Rosenberg being his right-hand man had got them past the Judenrein policy. The next day Tory Lord Buxton opened the door of my office, poked his head in and bellowed , ‘I hear you are griping about not receiving a Christmas bonus. Be reminded that as far as the Board is concerned you SLIPPED THROUGH THE NET.’ Sir John and John Rosenberg asked me if I wished to report this to the Board of Deputies but I so loved my job I decided not to.
Over the next few years I was at the receiving end of jokes about Jews: ‘We’d never seen a Jew in Norwich until John Rosenberg arrived – we looked to see if he had horns!’ and ‘You people never stop having holidays and stuffing your faces ‘ and the cherry on the sundae from Lord Buxton’s non-Jewish secretary: ‘I live in Stamford Hill and HATE those men in long coats parading around my road – they literally make my skin crawl. I know you’re Jewish, Carol, but it is in my veins to hate these people.’ (And yes, liberal and non-observant diacpora Jews will have a good giggle at this because we’ve all heard this same mantra from secular Israelis but when it comes from a non-Jew it is chilling.) I reminded her that these men, who look just like the Amish in my native Pennsylvania, may make her skin crawl but they aren’t going to stab or rape her, or blow up her church...
7. One of the most nerve-wracking broadcasts in which I ever participated was a two-hour special produced by Press TV about Israel’s illegitimacy as a state, anchored by Alan Hart, a former ITN presenter. Though never substantiated we heard through the industry that his blatant anti-Semitism eventually led to his departure from ITV.
This special was devised to illustrate that Israel was not a sovereign state, but illegitimate -- a bantustan created by unwelcome Zionist invaders who used the Shoah as an excuse to displace and massacre Arabs who had lived there for centuries. What is always so hard for someone like me who adored Rabin and Peres and thought Oslo was the only way to peace is being pushed into a corner of defending even the most brutal of Likud regimes. On this programme was Zionist Federation vice chair Jonathan Hoffman, who lost his rag to the point that the recording had to be suspended for half an hour. I tried to keep my cool and defend the aspirations of the Jewish people to have a homeland, going back to the era of the Dreyfus trial, Emile Zola, ‘J’accuse,’ Theodor Herzl and Ahad Ha’am, but the head of the Muslim Brotherhood UK got so angry at me that he fell off his chair in the front row of the audience and hit his head; the recording had to be suspended whilst we waited for him to be taken away in an ambulance. Also on the panel was an Israeli BDS supporter who had joked to me in the green room that he so hated being associated with the Jews that he wished he could have his foreskin sewn back on, and a Shoah survivor who felt Israel was in the top five of criminal rogue states that should be dismantled and the Jews there charged collectively with war crimes going back to 1948. Alan Hart used the programme to spill endless bile about the worldwide Jewish lobby that funds the criminal ‘Zionist enterprise.’ Sometimes I wonder if standing up for the Jewish people in these circumstances caused my string of illnesses and heart attack.
One irony : after this programme the young Iranian Press TV technicians saw me out and crowded around me, saying they secretly prayed every day that the Ayatollahs would be toppled and that Iran could establish good relations with Israel!
Moving on to non-TV life:
I have contended, and written about it in my book, that the worst anti-Semitism I have encountered in my decades in the UK has always come from Tories, not from Labour supporters.
1.On one occasion I was in a Little Venice cafe with a North London Tory committee worker and said, ‘Oh, look! A Kosher King van in Maida Vale!’ to which he responded, KNOWING I AM JEWISH ‘ I would never buy anything kosher – I wouldn’t want the cashier to think I am Jewish.’ I know i should have walked out but I read him the riot act and have never accepted any further coffee dates with him since...
2.When there have been protests by BDS campaigners outside Marks and Spencer Oxford Street I have, time and again, encountered well-dressed, pinstripe-suited, plum-in-the mouth passersby who say ‘I thought when the Tories came in we’d stop pandering to the Jewish lobby. Thank goodness Cameron isn’t surrounded with Jews the way Mrs Thatcher was. Frankly I wish more would be killed when Hamas blows things up in Israel.’ On one occasion I reported one of these people to the police on duty when he said, in the Queen’s English, ‘They go on about the Holocaust but had I the courage I would go to Israel and set off a bomb.’
3. My neighbour Duncan, a committed Christian evangelical Zionist, told me that he attended an old boys’ reunion and was ashamed to report to me that his fellow Tory activist former headmaster asked him what he was doing with his life these days. When he said he was studying for the ministry and needed to go to Israel for a few months to steep himself in Hebrew this man said ‘Oh, how ghastly. Ghastly people, Israelis, ghastly language.’ Duncan says he continued with ‘So glad the Tories are back in. Except for that Letwin no Jews sniffing around Downing Street. Hopefully Letwin will disappear without trace.’
4. A Tory activist friend invited me in 2010 to a first night of the Proms party that was raising funds for the local conservative club. A young man who was an executive with Channel Five television tore into me about the Jews and Israel – yes, he was very drunk, but vino veritas . His venom was terrifying.
I wrote about this in a Jewish Chronicle article .
5. Over my forty-two years in this country I have been a guest at a great many ‘polite dinner parties’ – by the law of averages a vast majority of my circle is non-Jewish and Tory. At times I have been rendered speechless by their guests’ breathtaking anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, wishing our British forces had ‘lined up Begin and Rabin and Dayan and shot them all through the head.’ Their comments about Jews are often from the Dark Ages and may I stress these are all staunch conservatives.
Lest we forget Douglas Hurd, Michael Heseltine, William Hague and Ken Clarke have all said on ‘Question Time’ and in other broadcasts that Israel needs to be put in its place and behaves in a disproportionate fashion ‘with the blessing of the Jewish lobby so loved by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. ‘
Over the first eight months of 2018 I have railed against President Trump’s 'the press are the enemy of the people' trope and his child-separation policy. I have appeared with former MP Clare Short who, having thought I was a ‘neocon’ Likudnik and conservative, exclaimed ‘My God – you’ve become a radical!’ when I said I had campaigned for Bernie Sanders. The ultimate irony is that I had tried to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt during the 2016 campaign and had predicted his win on BBC and Sky News. Maybe I have become a radical, and being able – inbetween chemotherapy – to voice my strong views – and even on occasion to talk about diversity in the Oscars and Bafta – on British television and radio is a privilege I continue to treasure.