Saturday, 9 October 2010


One of my students has just sent me a message:

Look who's coming to the MMU. Caryl Phillips
22 October, 2010, MMU, Geoff Manton Building, Manchester
Novelist and Yale University professor Caryl Phillips. Talk and questions.


Having gratuitously decreed (in spite of protests from more forward-thinking minds than theirs) that I'm too old to any longer be a member of their teaching staff, the MMU have added insult to injury by following this up with the hiring Prof. C. Phillips to come to the MMU in Manchester as a special celebrity writer and academic.

For those of you new to this blog, Caryl Phillips is the bloke who (shall we say) leaned so heavily – without acknowledgement - on my book Battling Jack for the text to the Made in Wales section of his book Foreigners that I thought his publishers, Random House, would be as shocked and disgusted as I was when the similarities were pointed out to them.

I truly thought that they might panic when they concluded that if Caryl Phillips had done produced his writing in this way on this occasion, then perhaps this was the way he had always worked. ‘Wow!’ I thought they would think, ‘This puts the whole canon of Phillips’s work into question!’

NOT A BIT OF IT, me old chinas. NOT A BIT OF IT

In the course of my protestations, Phillips’s legal representative at Random House actually warned me that I was making statements ‘injurious to Mr. Phillips’. 'Hmmm,' I thought at the time, 'that ain’t quite the same as saying the statements I'm making are untrue though, is it?

The upcoming MMU event is so close on the heels of dear old Jack Turpin’s funeral that it is especially upsetting to his family just as it is to me.

FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACADEMIC ENQUIRY ONLY I’ll give you an example of the textual similarities which have caused the upset.

Please note that BlogSpot though perfectly fine for blogging has certain limitations of presentation which prevent me from laying out the following text in the precise positions they hold in their publications. The statue inscriptions, for instance, are centred in the books. You would be advised to look at the published books to get the full weight of similarity.

Here is my text, in Jack’s voice, from Battling Jack published in 2005:

“. . . There was me brother, middleweight champion of the world, the man who’d brought about the twentieth century’s biggest upset in boxing, in his moment of triumph, standing 8 ft 6 in. tall, on a 5-ft stone plinth. On the bronze plaque below his feet:

In Palace, Pub, And Parlour,
The Whole Of Britain Held Its Breath

I thought to meself, ‘You’ve done a marvellous job there, Terry. That’s just right.’
Underneath that it’s got:

Celer Et Audax.

Latin for ‘Swift and Bold’ – the motto of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps who me dad fought with for the freedom of all British people, . . .”


Here is Phillips’s text in the Made in Wales section of his book Foreigners published two years later in 2007:

“. . . In 2001, exactly fifty years after Turpin shocked the world and defeated Sugar Ray Robinson, an imposing 8’6” statue of Randolph Turpin in boxing pose, on a five feet high stone plinth, was unveiled in the centre of Warwick. On the bronze plaque below his feet are inscribed the words:

In Palace, Pub, And Parlour The Whole of (sic) Britain
Held Its Breath.

And beneath this ‘Celer Et Audax’ – Latin for ‘Swift and Bold’ – the motto of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps with whom Turpin’s father served during the First World War . . .’


To me, that not only sounds similar, it looks similar too.

This posting by someone called Dave appeared on the Leamington Guide website on 19th October 2008, 12:37 am:

‘. . . i (sic) went to my local library to see what this "Battling Jack" was about... where in this book does it state that it's "non-fiction"? there is a book by Caryl Phillips titled "Foreigners" that she (the ‘she’ Dave refers here to is Jack’s granddaughter Lydia) should read as there are passages identical to that in Batttling Jack so who copied who? . . .”

I think you’ve got your answer, Dave.

Now then, I wrote Battling Jack in Jack’s voice because not only are Jack’s life and Jack’s life stories his own intellectual property, but my aim and intention was to recreate for the reader what it was like, in my experience, to spend time with Jack as his audience, friend and confidante.

Here's something for Mr. Phillips, his researcher, his Random House editor and his Random House legal team:

When I asked Jack what he thought were the proportions of Randolph’s statue, his estimate was that the bronze figure was 20-ft high and stood on a ten foot plinth.

It was clear to me that his perceived exaggeration of the size of the tribute to the brother he loved was a psychological measure of the huge love and esteem he held his brother in.

Jack straightway realised his own fairly wild over-estimate of Carl Payne’s creation and modified it to, ‘Well, no, I should say it’s about 8’ 6” for Randolph and 5 foot for the plinth.’

I left it at that.

My belief is that a reader of Battling Jack with any empathy and intelligence at all will quickly catch on to Jack’s vibe and instinctively know when Jack is exaggerating and when he is not. Just like you would do if you had actually met up with him for a chat (which Prof. Phillips has not).

Mr. Phillips is apparently not such a reader as Mr. Phillips is repeating Jack’s exaggerations as if they are fact and is repeating them in his own voice - the voice of a sober academic, a now Professor of Yale University. Doh!

The real measurement of Carl Payne’s bronze stature is: 6' 7" from the top of the stone plinth to the top of Randolph’s head. The plinth is 4-ft high at the front and 4 ft 2" at the back.

These proportions have long been known to me. Carl is a family friend. I was in at the beginning of his statue commission and followed it all the way through. It is through my involvement with Carl's commission that I met Jackie Turpin.

Adrian Bush, President of the Randolph Turpin Memorial Fund, decent fellow that he is, climbed up on the Warwick statue on a rainy day recently to verify these measurements, so: Doh! again Professor.

Ah, but there are many other examples of similarity between the two texts that I will not bore you with here.

During the course of my written exchange with Prof. Phillips, he claimed that Randolph’s two elder daughters are happy with his Made in Wales section of Foreigners.

I spoke to them both at Jack’s funeral – and wonderful women they are too, Randolph would have been really proud of them – and told them I had been in communication with a friend of theirs, Caryl Phillips.

‘He is no friend of ours,’ I was quickly told by the first daughter in tones that left me in absolutely no doubt of her sincerity. The second daughter came in with, ‘In fact we are very cross with Mr. Phillips.’

They went on to describe how Caryl Phillips had published things they had told him only in confidence and did so even after they had secured a promise from him that he would remove them from his final text. Doh! yet again Prof.

So, Prof., if you are reading this, and I hope you are, have a good gig at the MMU on the 22nd. You will easily recognise the Geoff Manton Building: It’s 4,078’ 9 ½” high standing on some 867-foot stone steps. Mind how you go.


The inscription on Carl Payne’s statue of Randolph, by the way, is a line taken from my song, Champion of the World, my personal tribute to Randolph’s great achievement in 1951. Come along to a StringFing gig. We often include that one.


Got to shoot off now. I promise a happier posting next time about an old mate of Lynda's and mine showing up at my National Poetry Day gig.

Tra a bit,


Sunday, 3 October 2010


Hooray! I’ve finally been cured of my need to watch X-Factor! Hooray, hoorah, and hooray again!

I had been compelled by its magnetic ugliness for far too long.

X-Factor is staged with the sole aim of producing a TV show with money-makingly high ratings and hugely profitable spin-off merchandising opportunities.

Its participants are pawns in a giant game of chess. On one side of the table are the ever-hungry Mr. Cowell and his cohorts, and on the other side is the ever-hungry British TV-viewing public.

As every chess player knows, you have to sacrifice a few pawns in the pursuit of every win (and occasionally a queen, Lynda suggested when she read this).

Some of those taking part in X-Factor Chess might happen to receive benefit – even great benefit - from occupying the board, but, make no mistake, that is NOT the point of play. The point is, of course, the cheque, mate.

Embarrassingly, a couple of X-Factor victims have been students of mine from the MMU (you know who you are, M and D. Well no, sadly, you don’t, do you? You wouldn’t have done the X-Factor in the first place if you did).

But, ha!! No more shall I succumb to its guilt-inducing shows that have had me chuckling at its exploitation of the mentally ill.

No longer shall I have to hang my head in shame after finding myself laughing along with the bullyboy’s gang as the spotlight is turned on the next deluded one to be shoved out to croak and squirm under the hot, panting breath of the judges, and the cold, unforgiving eye of TV cameras.

Never again shall I have to witness the false bonhomie of the X-Factor's unenviable pontificating panel to whom fame and money are never enough; to whom the prospect of getting old is so terrifying they have themselves surgically disguised as younger people.

CUE: StringFing playing the intro to Somewhere in the Night

ENTER: The GRIM REAPER. He speaks from deep within his hood.

“Ah, but inside yourselves, my starry-starry doods, inside yourselves you are older than ever before, and so it goes on and on and on and on like that until you are mine.”

Curtains close as the skeletons in the cupboards of past X-Factor contestants sing: ‘Somewhere in the night violins are playing / The melody lingers, but it won’t be staying’.

If you can’t live with death, you can’t live with life, I say (Oooops! There wasn’t a faintly pleading quality to my voice just then, was there?).

How has this cure of mine been so dramatically accomplished?

How have I, apparently magically, been released from enslavement to my hideous and boorish tippex-toothed master?

I’ll tell you how:

he has brought Sharon Osbourne back in,

that’s how.

Once glimpse of her, one note of her voice was the combined emetic and enema this patient needed. A single moment of chain-shattering (yes, the resonance is intentional), unutterable horror, then: CURED! Wonderful!

Now then, I wonder if there are any crane flies handy that need their legs pulling off?



Friday, 1 October 2010

Jo Bell. Have a Go Jo, Come and Have a Go . . .

Hey ho doods, turns out that they have finally given the Year 1 poetry strand of my old MMU job to Jo Bell. It’s Jo’s first venture into higher ed tutoring, apparently, so all good wishes to her from me. I’ve met Jo a few times and she looks young enough not to have to tread in fear of the MMUC's ageist policy – for a year or two anyway :-)


People have been asking for the lyric to this song of mine about the Sneyd Colliery Explosion in 1942.

This event, although belonging to what feels like an entirely different world, is still in living memory. I recently met a fella who was a 17-year-old lad at the time of it and remembers it well as well he might. He escaped the tragedy as he worked a different shift to the victims.

I know I told the story of the Sneyd disaster in an earlier blog, but did not (in so far as I can remember and I'm feeling far too idle right now to check it out) actually post the words, so here they are:


He who dares cut the coal, old pitmen say,
On a New Years Day
Has a wife make his snappin’, a widow take his pay
On a New Years Day

Bomber planes are flying, back to work it is
On a New Years Day
Sally stop your crying, give me one more kiss
On a New Years Day

The winding wheel is turning, the cage at the drift
On a New Years Day
Collier lads and Bevin Boys start their morning shift
On a New Years Day

At the Banbury Crut jig a rope begins to fray
On a New Years Day
The air is choked with powdered coal, the coal tubs runaway
On a New Years Day

The first down-coming tub scrapes up a spark
On a New Years Day
A coal dust blast rips apart the dark
On a New Years Day

At the pithead wives are waiting in sorrow and in grief
On a New Years Day
Their silence only broken by words of disbelief
On a New Years Day

Collier wives and Bevin Boys and boys in soldier suits
On a New Years Day
When bells ring out for war, we are all recruits
On a New Years Day

When the names are numbered, the roll of honour called
On a New Years Day
To the spoil heaps of the battlefields add fifty-seven more
On a New Years Day

© W. Terry Fox

If you want to actually hear this song sung, come to see StringFing at the New Inn, Derby Street, Hanley, on the evening of Thursday, October 21st. I have promised to put OANYD into our programme. Come down anyway even if you don’t want to hear it sung. You’ll be among some of the finest people walking this whole round earth – excluding the band of course.

May your steps be light and lead you along the road to happiness,