GOOD GUYS, BAD GUYS: A Hollywood Guide to doing the right thing
Bad Day at Black Rock
The Carry On Series
The Empire Strikes Back
Gone With the Wind (of Change)
High Noon (in Lagos)
High Plains Drifter
Hold the Front Page
A Matter of Life and Death
Mr Smith Goes to Washington (Westminster)
(Mrs) Sanders of the River
Touch of Evil
Twelve Guilty Men
NB Items starting with ! are recent additions or updates.
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'Bad Day at Black Rock'(with Spencer Tracy. MGM. 1955)
'Abubakar from the Black Rock' is the sub-title of an interminable account of Balewa, a Nigerian politician's life, by a superb writer and splendid historian, Trevor Clark. Anyone who can write so much - 888 pages - about so little deserves superlatives. Apart from that, Trevor was at my Oxford College, Magdalen, and even more we served in Nigeria together. (I bitterly resent ill-informed criticism of colonial officials. Some, acting on orders from Whitehall, were dreadful scoundrels, but the vast majority were first-class people, doing excellent work under very trying conditions in extremely unhealthy places.)
Like Balewa, the hero of Trevor Clark's fascinating work, Spencer Tracy is faced with a hostile community. Under Clark's vivid and imaginative direction, his hero Balewa is transformed from a squalid traitor to his people, a puppet of the British, to the man in white who takes on all those vile enemies of his masters and dies tragically in the struggle. This seminal suspense thriller - the guilty nation motif becomes a cliché - has a dramatic unity, an economy of word and action which is sadly lacking in Clark's master work of 888 pages. But as in Clark's riveting presentation, the moments of violence, long awaited in the film, are electrifying. Truly an admirable production in an age of flabby Hollywood epics that meander on forever. (For my filmic insights I am indebted to Leslie Halliwell's Film Guide and William K. Zinsser of the New York Herald Tribune.)
The man in the white suit in the rough desert terrain, where man depended on his horse if he was to win through, was Balewa, a simple homespun farmer and teacher. When the call came, he knew what he had to do to serve his people, his nation, his faith. It was true that his colleagues ransacked and plundered the national coffers. It was necessary to rig elections and destroy democracy in pursuit of a higher, if highly questionable, morality. His opponents had to be imprisoned, and his actions inevitably led to a bloody civil war in which a million young people died, but 'He Never Faltered In His Duty.' This is a true story of epic proportions not yet told by master storyteller Trevor Clark. ('The skill of some sequences, the mood and symbiosis between man and nature makes this film sometimes superior to High Noon.' G.N. Fenin.)
Who knows, one day 'Abubakar from the Black Rock' will be filmed, and Pauline Kael will write, 'A very superior example of motion picture craftsmanship,' as she did of Dore Schary's morality play featuring Spencer Tracy, the good man fighting evil.
Even as I write, Mr Clark's epic story is probably being winched into the hold of an ocean-going freighter bound for a film tycoon's reinforced desk at MGM. Will a blacked up Alec Guinness play the martyred leader, beloved by all his British friends, but cruelly served by his own giant nation of a hundred nationalities who thought 'he had it coming' as they say in Westerns? I trust, anyway, that Mr Clark has better luck than I had when my own script of these events was to be filmed in the late 60's. The Director wanted to move the action to the West Indies, change the title and turn the hero into a heroine.
'The Girl from Black Rock,' with numbers by Andrew Lloyd Webber is truly a fate worse than the tragic death of this simple man, who fell into bad company as the sun set over the great and illustrious British Empire. [Fade in theme tune. Close-up, 'The End.' Roll credits. Feature prominently 'Director: Trevor Clark. Cut.]
The total cost of publishing Mr Clark's epic work was paid for by the British taxpayer. The cash went from a secret Foreign office account via the old Colonials 'Friends of Nigeria' to the publisher. This was an MI6 wheeze to ingratiate the British with Nigeria's latest military ruler and win some arms contracts. The book was the centrepiece of a ceremony in Nigeria to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Balewa's assassination. I am the only person known to have purchased a copy of this splendid work. It was worth every penny. I have never laughed so much!
30 April 1992
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Carry On up the Creeks: Carry On Series: Up the Khyber, et al. (Anglo-Amalgamated. Peter Rogers, Director)
In all the Carry On films, there is one English idiot who believes that everything is pukka and above board, and that our people are decent, and the natives (i.e. whomever we happen to be against at the time) just need a bit of good advice to be jolly decent types too. This nutter, often played by Kenneth Williams, is sometimes cast as a clergyman or otherwise wet character. The other British stereotypes are colonels who are lunatics, captains who are drunks, lieutenants who are lechers, and a cockney crew of anarchical layabouts. I have omitted the streetwise world-weary senior NCO's, the linchpins of the Army and Empire who keep the whole show afloat. They are unshockable, ingenious, forever resourceful, and know every fiddle, whether at lower rank or Commanding Officer level. Their tricks of the trade are nudge nudge, wink wink, watch it, keep your nose clean.
The noodle, as vicar, teacher or academic - usually a professor - has led a sheltered life. It is only when removed from that backwater and put into life-or-death situations that he faces real moral dilemmas. In war films the academic as commando killer is Jack Hawkins in "Bridge on the River Kwai". In real-life war, some academics adapt quickly, perhaps because of a brutalised public school upbringing, to the cruelties of war and reveal a vicious, cruel streak. In war there is no moral problem, particularly in a good war against Hitler. Academics love intelligence work because it is competitive, brainy and to do with problem solving. Perhaps they like deceit. Crossman, who was a natural liar, plainly adored black propaganda and being paid to lie.
There are, of course, moral dilemmas in war. Soldiers are told not to take prisoners. The parachute brigade never did, which is why their first act, when at risk of having to surrender, was to bury their beloved red beret, lest they got what they usually dished out. In 1946 a young RAF pilot mounted a chair outside the Abbey in Bath and told a largely indifferent group of passers-by that he had protested when he learned he was to drop bombs on civilian targets in German towns. He had believed the propaganda lie that we were fighting a clean war against the beastly, murderous Hun. The young RAF officer was now reduced to the ranks. He was no longer a pilot, no longer an officer, and he had joined the real world. The men in the cookhouse he now worked with probably took it for granted that we were killing civilians.
When the British Government (1956-1960) rigged the Nigerian independence elections, colonial officials were stunned. It was extremely hard to believe what was happening. There were cynical and dishonest officials who exploited these machinations to advance their careers. They entered enthusiastically into this treason. I was one of those who protested. Most thought of their pensions and kept their heads down.
Perhaps it was extremely naïve and foolish to try to divert this criminal juggernaut once Whitehall had given the go-ahead. For me there was no choice. Probably the English have been indulging in this kind of duplicity, hypocrisy and treachery for centuries, particularly against Ireland and our colonial empire. There is a vacancy, a role in all these evils, for one lone voice to protest. I have no regrets at having fulfilled that role when Britain retreated from its imperial responsibilities in Africa in ignominy.
8 June 1992
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Casablanca - Play it again, Festering Sam, but Circumspectly
Clark, in his monumental biography of Nigeria's first Prime Minister Balewa ('Right Honourable Gentleman': 1991) tries to distance him from his totally corrupt Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Samuel Okotie Eboh, better known as Festering Sam to the British colonial officials who had to serve under him.
For a time in 1958, shortly before he moved from Labour to Finance, I had a desk outside Festus's office. My boss, Francis Nwokedi, knew full well that I loathed Okotie Eboh and Festus's intelligence service must have alerted Festus to this fact. However, Francis was inviting international experts to the Ministry of Labour in connection with the Provident Fund Scheme he inaugurated and which I helped to set up. He wished to make a good impression on these specialists and I was made the official responsible for looking after them and keeping them happy. Lagos was like a film set in those very heady pre-independence days. A great mammoth production was being planned and my international VIP's were the beginning of a flood. I was delighted because Lagos became a much more interesting place. It had always been vibrant and exciting in the black capital, but where we lived in the exclusive white suburb of Ikoyi one could so easily die of boredom.
I had, however, given the white administration a very nasty shock such as it had rarely received before. The Governor General was incensed and personally censured me. My sin was to protest at the complex arrangements for rigging Nigeria's Independence elections. As a consequence, the administration sought to relieve my boredom in various ways. Threats to my life and, if I survived, my health and career became so common that they failed to excite. I retreated to London, but was seized by the throat, shaken, and returned to Lagos where I was moved around a series of dismal, downtown, ramshackle offices. My move to the Minister's suite was a pleasant change from the sewer stench of Alakaro from where millions of black Africans had embarked to become black Americans.
While at Alakaro I inspected the bars, hotels and the drinking dens of Lagos. It was something to do. I had been denied access to the files and papers in Central Office lest I got up to more mischief. Had I not written an infamous minute on a command from HE Sir James Robertson, the Governor General, which had given him apoplexy and caused me to be banished from headquarters? "No, Sir," my minute stated categorically. "This would be a criminal act." As Robertson was violating the extensive election laws of Nigeria, he was a criminal, as were the whole of the administration employed in the election rigging. I had it on the highest authority, the Governor General himself, that only one senior British officer had defied him and refused to join in the fun - me.
Some of Lagos's low dives, though in no way as sophisticated as Rick's Bar, reminded me of Casablanca. That town is said to be the ugliest in Northwest Africa, as I suppose Lagos is the ugliest in West Africa, and - the lagoon apart - perhaps the ugliest on the whole continent. In the 50's it was certainly one of the most insanitary, unhealthy and least graceful British outposts in the Empire. Of course, Rick's Bar only existed on the back lot of Warner Brothers' Burbank Studio in 1942, but its corruption and seediness was pervasive and real, and that is what I encountered in bars and brothels, where sailors from around the world and others seeking the low life got together during the late and early hours. Casablanca's original title, 'Everybody Comes to Rick's' was not too applicable because I visited these Lagosian bars in mid morning when the festivities had expired, as had the remaining clients who were sleeping it off, slumped over tables or on the floor. (As we inspected the bars and brothels, it occurred to my African assistants that we should also inspect the place where top British officials - whites only - met together. Our visit to "The Club" caused consternation, but that is another story.)
I was accompanied by a team of black assistants armed with notebooks, who would seek wages' books and official records. The book usually proffered was the 'dash' book which recorded bribes to officials and to which our names would be added, even though I spurned the bribes tendered. The bar manager could cheerfully pocket the bribe I had refused. I was offered money, whiskey, girls, boys and, at one celebrated hostelry which never paid its staff any wages at all, the proprietor's wife and then - in desperation - his daughters. I was told that I was the most difficult person to please in the whole colonial administration. A sentiment the Governor General probably would have endorsed.
I certainly was not Bogart. We had one thing in common though. Neither of us got the girl. Some beautiful girls offered dalliance on the Minister's conference table or desk, but they were the Minister's girls and I suspected that he had put them up to it. Casablanca is a damn good film, but also a philosophic treatise on moral responsibility versus emotional needs and compulsions. (Film buffs will suspect rightly that I have been reading John Kobal's 'Top 100 Movies.') I recall Esther who had been very naughty but also had a fine brain. She would unfold her lappa, a loose wrap-around skirt, by my desk and then lean over it. It would get even hotter in that office and my friend Cathy Polkinghorne, passing by, would yell, "Remember you're a happily married man, Sean!"
Our Commissioner of Labour, George Foggon, was credited with putting through some very unsavoury deals for Festering Sam. It did George no harm for he was promoted to the Colonial Office. However, Sam's thirst for crooked deals had not been slaked. He had the Governor General's approval too as he told us after being carpeted by the Governor General. Carpeted, not for being a crook - he was after all our most pro-British politician and a great fixer - but for being careless. "Be more circumspect," he told us Sir James had warned him. Sir James had told him that he had details of every crooked deal that he had a finger in. That was unsurprising because MI5 opened his mail and tapped his telephone and kept a close eye on him. To control him we needed to know what he was up to. Not to stop him, but to use the information to blackmail him lest he forget who was paying the piper. He had to put through our crooked deals. To head off nationalisation, to protect British interests in return for large donations to his bank account in Switzerland and his Party funds.
Sam could certainly have played Sydney Greenstreet who bought Rick's night-club. Sir James Robertson was a very serious criminal but lacked the charm of Claud Rains. I suppose he was closer to Conrad Veidt's Nazi Commandant. He seemed that way to me in his office at Government House, when he looked at me icily and said that, if I did not give him my word to keep secret the fact that we had rigged Nigeria's Independence elections, means would be found to silence me.
I met enough scoundrels in Lagos to populate Rick's Casablanca many times over. I suppose my friend and later eminent historian, Michael Crowder, was a natural for Paul Henreid's part. I tried to protect Michael when he was pressurised by the Governor General to put the screws on me. Michael's sexual preferences made him at that time an easy choice for a blackmailer and thug like Robertson. I encouraged Michael to put aside such loyalty as he felt for me. He gave me his word that he would one day tell the truth about Britain's vile machinations and what happened to us, but although he was a prolific historian, he never did, nor will he ever because he died from Aids recently.
Bogart's eternal anti-hero was much too starring a role for a bit player like me. It is said that Bogart and Bergman did not know how the screenplay would end while they were making the film. In my humble role in a contest between good and evil, played against a backdrop of the retreat from Empire, I was unlike the street-wise Bogart and resembled more an innocent abroad. I somehow thought I would be able to walk away from this ghastly and shocking plot, which undermined our claim to be the world's most distinguished and pre-eminent democracy.
The Governor General brought me down to earth cruelly. He said that I knew far too much and that I could not be allowed to return to Britain. He feared that I still harboured the notion that the British had not rigged the elections. Indeed, against the direct experience of the orders he had sent me, I still longed to be told that it was all a misunderstanding. Sir James intuitively knew of these hopes and dashed them. He wanted no misapprehension. He wanted me to know the truth of the real trouble I was in. He was not pussyfooting around. He had rigged the elections because it was necessary. When he made remarks about carrying out orders, I realised or thought I did - perhaps I was clutching at straws - that we had this in common. Momentarily I softened towards him, but almost immediately he was threatening me. He said that I would never be employed again, and the hopelessness of my stand submerged me in a profound gloom which hangs round me to this day.
With the arrival of TV in the late 1950's, some very fine actors found that they had made their last film. They too never worked again. I know how it is to struggle to survive, to battle with chronic ill health, to suffer the slings and very real arrows of outrageous fortune. My reputation has been slandered, my character defamed, I am told that I am obsessed, a sick old man, bitter, a liar. This from criminals who were responsible for the deaths of up to one million young people in the Biafran War which flowed inevitably from our criminality in rigging Nigeria's independence elections. The euphemism actors use is 'resting'. They travel abroad, they claim, or are writing their memoirs in the sun. All too often they are employed as shop assistants or clerks.
Bogart was the man who embodied Raymond Chandler's classic dictum, "Down these mean streets a man must go, who is himself not mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." After the Colonial Office got me sacked from my post of Personnel Manager at the Esso Refinery at Fawley, I was recognised by both workers at the plant and colonial officials on leave delivering the post in Lymington near the refinery. Having been humiliated and kicked around, it was hoped that I had learned my lesson and Whitehall returned me to Lagos. They cannot do that, you protest. I can only answer that Whitehall and MI5 can commit murder without a thought of exposure or punishment. Top officials in Lagos wondered that I had not been eliminated because of my defiance and what I knew.
No academy awards for seeking to defend the rule of law or our democracy. Tough. I would rather walk mean streets than live well with a string of honours, but have no honour.
1 May 1992
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'The Empire Strikes Back' (USA 1980)
This galactic screen epic, like its predecessor, 'Star Wars', is simply Flash Gordon Rides Again - but faster. And who better to star in "The Wind of Change," another colossal production, but SuperMac! Harold Macmillan was a man who walked alone. Turning away from his partner, Lady Dorothy, who loved another, Macmillan headed for the Big Country, Nigeria, in the Big Continent, Africa, to do what a Macmillan had to do. The African Giant was ripe to be independent, and Big Mac had a problem. How was Nigeria to be controlled in the British interest when it was 'free'? The natives were restless, and two of their tribal leaders, Zik and Awo, unfriendly. The third leader, Bello, was our man but inclined to be bellicose. Someone more diplomatic, but still ruthless, was sought amongst his deputies. Thus was Balewa, a simple teacher, chosen to do SuperMac's bidding and destroy the hostile Zik and Awo.
But hold on, is not SuperMac the hero of this astounding motion picture classic? Sorry, no. SuperMac is playing Darth Vader. Right. So the heroes are really Zik and Awo, and they form a Rebel Alliance to fight Darth Vader? Well, yes, they are heroic, standing up to the dastardly British, but the first trick Darth pulled was to split them and make them fight each other.
Balewa, Darth's man on Earth, is appointed ruler of Nigeria by SuperMac, and everyone is happy. Except, that is, Zik, who is robbed of political power, and Awo, who is jailed for ten years, and their peoples, who are tricked, conned and robbed that the evil empire may thrive. Tough for them, but the good news is that for six years the British are happy. As Balewa had four wives, lots of girl friends and particularly adored fornicating with black Lolitas, there are parts galore for female friends and family of everyone connected with this incredible production. Sadly, just when almost everyone - well, all except the Nigerian populace - is having a ball, some bolshie Army officers shoot Balewa stone cold dead.
The British were horrified, and Balewa was not too pleased either, but his feelings got overlooked in the tumult that followed. "Who did it, and who was behind it?" demanded the British. A General who looked as if he might be a possible replacement for Balewa disposed of the young Army officers pretty smartly. Ironsi was ambitious, but not too pushy; bright, but no intellectual; and honest without being too principled. He had promise. Did the beastly British, playing the role of Darth Vader, finger Zik and Awo and execute them horribly? Sadly, this was not possible. Awo had a reasonable alibi. The cunning rogue had forced us to jail him for ten years. And Zik was in England, claiming to need medical attention. He would certainly have needed it if our boys in Nigeria could have got their hands on him. (Were the young Majors not from his tribe?)
In Balewa's homeland, the North's revenge was planned. The Empire would Strike Back. First Ironsi, the General, was dispatched, and then the British organised the angry Northerners and set them on those of Zik's people who were residing in the North. Thousands and thousands of peaceful men, women and children were hacked to pieces, and the survivors fled back to Iboland, which rapidly trained an army and declared independence, calling itself Biafra. However, the Evil Empire had only just started, and now under the pretext of putting down the rebels, the killings could really commence. Fighting against overwhelming odds, with makeshift weapons, the Biafrans fought valiantly, but were inevitably vanquished. Two million died. The Empire had truly struck back with a vengeance.
Like all great war productions, the 'Wind of Change' gave us bloodshed with some mythical and Sophoclean overtones, which would please SuperMac who saw himself as a Thinker, someone above the drab routine of workaday life. Did SuperMac's production lack some of the inventiveness, humour and special effects of its predecessors? Perhaps, but it did good business. A recent big book on Balewa tries to make up for our neglect of the dead teacher whom we used as a front to protect our interests in the African Giant. But how to write off those embarrassing two million dead? Well, they were only common people, Trevor Clark tells us. Only a single man of distinction died, and he was a poet and presumably did not count.
The motion picture epic Empire had a Muppet as its spiritual guide and, not to be left behind, Clark demonstrates that the British Evil Empire had its spiritual puppet, too, in Balewa. The British were well cast as the 'droids' and the tired and emotional Wookie was tailor made for... CUT. Roll Credits.
(Acknowledgements to Leslie Halliwell's Film Guide and Time Out Film Guide. Fade in theme music - a War Requiem. End credits on 'A British Empire Film Production.' The End. LIGHTS.)
16 June 1992
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Gone with the Wind of Change... MGM, David Selznick. 1939)
The Ibo and the Yoruba are transplanted in the New World and their plight on the ole plantation is the backcloth for, on the superficial level, "a re-run of the 'Taming of the Shrew' by Shakespeare out of Ethel M. Dell" (James Agate) - or how a Southern girl survives the Civil War but loses her man - and more seriously the case for racism, reaction and sexism presented in the best block-busting, bonk-busting and bodice-busting epic style that Hollywood could command. Both the largely fictitious, elegant, honourable and decent South and Scarlett, as bitchy Southern belle, get raped, which was the nightly lot of the Ibo and Yoruba in the ole log cabin back of Tara, both ante bellum and post bellum. Scarlett smiles submissively after her rape - it was in marriage after all - and the African sought consolation in Christianity, which was also cheap and available.
A century later the British almost left Africa with honour, but not quite. In the great British tradition of a Whitehall farce and an Ealing comedy, SuperMac declared Nigeria free of the Imperial boot and replaced it with the soft shoe shuffle of Northern puppet rule. Government of the people, by the Emirs, for the British, was, as a winning formula, pilot-tested in the North and then extended to the whole of Nigeria. The Northerners, if not quite white, were certainly not quite black, and had some old scores to settle with the uppity Ibo and Yoruba. Come to that, so had the British and, at independence, having rigged the elections to favour their Northern friends, the British withdrew temporarily to watch the fun which rapidly escalated into a bloody civil war.
Quite what went with the wind of change in Africa, apart from any claim to honesty or honour by Whitehall man, historians will in due course tell us. In the meantime, I note that more died in 'Biafra' in the 1960's than in the US civil war of the 1860's - more also than British losses in World War Two.
The Governor General, while admitting British treachery to me, added dryly, "No one will believe you, Smith." Sadly, that is not the problem. All too many turn away, not because they do not believe, but precisely because they do and are frightened. Ah well, tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett observed and as for Sir James Robertson, and Macmillan and his criminal gang, frankly I don't give a damn. Rhett Butler could not have put it better.
(I acknowledge with gratitude my reliance on Leslie Halliwell's and Time Out's Film Guides for filmic insights.)
22 June 1992
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High Noon (in Lagos)
Stanley Kramer staged a contest between good and evil in 1952 on a Hollywood back-lot with the help of Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. When the marshal seeks help from the frightened townsfolk, they turn away, and he has to take on the revengeful bad men alone.
This epic film of the classic struggle between right and wrong reflected the menace of McCarthyism, which at that time threatened democracy in the USA. Idealistic Americans, liberals and democrats, as well as sympathisers with bolshevism, were persecuted and ruined. McCarthyism itself was part of an undeclared world confrontation, the Cold War. Remote peoples in Asia and Africa were judged by issues they barely comprehended. Were they likely supporters of bolshevism? The verdict could leave whole nations laid to ruin by the shock troops of the forces of democracy, MI5 and MI6, the CIA and the SAS, and US military advisors.
In the build-up to Independence for Nigeria the intelligence agencies sent in their advance men, and soon the flow became a flood. Who amongst the nationalist leaders could be trusted to keep Nigeria safe for democracy? Daftness prevailed and nationalists, who were liberals, were truly socialists, who were truly crypto-communists, and subversives, and enemies of the free world, and monsters, and truly a menace, and enemies who must be exterminated, eliminated, neutralised, extinguished.
That is why Nigeria's Independence elections had to be rigged by the British. It was necessary, as the Governor General confessed to me in his office in Government House in 1960. Not expedient, desirable, essential, required or a damned good thing, just necessary. In fact, whatever the excuse or reason dreamt up, this covert action was a colossal disaster. Not for the British, of course. They had moved on to deal with a pressing problem elsewhere by this time and what had seemed so urgently necessary was now forgotten. Up to one million young Nigerians were to die in a bloody civil war because of British machinations - a blood bath that was surely totally unnecessary.
When I replied with a terse minute, 'No, Sir, this would be a criminal act,' to the Governor General, I did not know that the covert action I had refused to join would have such tragic consequences. I knew what the Governor General was up to was evil. Much to my surprise, people I told turned away or went into shock. Then my colleague, Vic Beck, approached me. His senior officer had been ordered to pressurise British multi-nationals for large sums of money for pro-British political parties. He had carried out his orders and was conscience-stricken. The three of us sought advice from Government House. This was the correct procedure. The orders were confirmed. They came from the Governor General. My colleagues ran when a mighty roar of fury came from Sir James Robertson. How dare we question his orders! My colleagues, I learned later, fingered me as the ringleader. I was not, but as the one who stood his ground, it was understandable that everything should be thrown at me. My excellent work, the testimonials to my considerable achievements, the outstanding reports on my work by my superiors, were as nothing now I stood alone.
I felt like the marshal in High Noon, but Birth of a Nation was also in there somewhere. The feeling of isolation increased when the colonial government and Whitehall blackmailed my friends so they too turned away. I had been moved away from my colleagues and now my friends kept their distance. Word got around that I was dangerous and I was treated as a leper. I had let the side down. I had gone native. I had betrayed our people.
Gary Cooper was victorious. I failed to blow the whistle on British treachery and a million died in a totally unnecessary, bloody, civil war. However, I survived to tell the tale even if only in a limited manner to the cognoscenti.
Workers in my care were beaten to death in Spanish Fernando Poo, despite my pleas. The British did not want to know. I fought other battles unsuccessfully. One afternoon I helped to rescue the body of a dockworker from the lagoon outside Government House. Was he one of the workers who had sought my protection when I was Port Labour Officer? The docking company, which enjoyed a monopoly, employed a goon squad to discipline troublesome workers. Messages of support came my way from the African office staff at the Department of Labour Headquarters. Others tried to be supportive while making clear I was on my own. There were thrills, tension and excitement in my version of 'High Noon'. There were surprises, plot developments and twists as the story unfolded. I was thrown back on myself and found inner strengths I did not know I possessed. I did not need Grace Kelly at all, for in my wife Carol I had a totally honest and upright partner who never flinched from her duty. In London too, we found frightened politicians, cowardly editors and those who spoke great liberal thoughts, but felt no need to defend our democracy.
Those of us who take a stand never regret it, for to do so would be to kill off the people we were, to become someone, a lesser kind of person, other than we are. Maybe it is only in Hollywood epics that the guy in the white hat wins and then only because he kills the evil bastards with his trusty six-shooter or Winchester rifle. For all my pacifism I could be tempted by that violent solution, though I know in my heart it would not work.
Maybe if my story is filmed (not as unlikely as it sounds as one effort has already been made) a good-looking hero will win through decisively and press home the moral that crime does not pay, and that a man has to do what a man has to do; that good will always triumph over evil and that a man must be true to himself. I find that last sentiment appealing. I will drink to that, stranger. And now I ride away up a dusty road into the far horizon.
2 May 1992
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High Plains Drifter (or the Lower Levels of Moral Decay)
The citizens are threatened by villains and turn to Clint Eastwood, but Clint has a score to settle with the citizens too. Evil can only triumph if good men let it. Clint kills the bad guys, but is really pissed off with the gentry too. They deserve hell, and Clint gives it to them.
I once watched a potentially great nation set on an evil course which would tear it apart in a bloody civil war in which, it is said, two million innocent people died. When I intervened to try to stop Nigeria's Independence Elections being rigged, the British Government threatened to kick the shit out of me and a lot of good people stood by and watched a great nation destroyed and a lone dissenter gagged.
Since that time I have struggled to survive and have told my story to Prime Ministers, Presidents, Archbishops and Cardinals, politicians of all parties and self-proclaimed but bogus tribunes of decency, like Guardian Editors, the law and goodness knows who, but to no avail. Nobody wants to help me, it seems. There are brave, decent, honest people about, and I find them, but we are few.
Some critics seemed to have difficulty with the plot of this film - High Plains Drifter. It was over the top and too violent. They wanted the bad guys to be killed painfully, and Clint obliged, but that was a side-show. The villains he had in his sights were the cowardly evil citizens who let the roughnecks, the yobbos loose on the State. We know that, if not checked when they spread terror in a locality, they can spread their wings and become Hitler's and Tito's children and destroy States and plunge Nations into bloody war.
I could perhaps have murdered one or two of those I know to be enemies of the State who were responsible for the deaths of millions of Nigerians, but I cannot take revenge on all those who stand by and let evil prosper. It has been my duty to alert everyone to evil and make sure that all understand and be given a chance to take a stand, and this is very time-consuming. So much so that thirty years pass, and Nigeria is still denied democracy and suffers dictatorship and repression, and I have become an old man.
Clint drifts on high moral plains and is god-like in dispensing justice. I suspect ordinary cinema-goers, unlike the circuit critics, had no problems with the plot of this film. There is little justice in the factory or on the farm, and they know the top people of Largo were mean-spirited bastards, and shed no tears when Clint the Director zapped them.
Strangely, after thirty years, I feel closer to the evil crooks of the Macmillan and Eden regimes who murdered the Mau-Mau suspects in Kenya while supposedly interrogating them, and produced a bloody civil war in Nigeria. One can so easily understand them. One can also understand their henchmen, the top civil servants like Sir John MacPherson, the Permanent Under Secretary at the Colonial Office, who masterminded the death at birth of Africa's greatest new democracy. Others like Sir James Robertson carried out their orders and executed on a grand scale what started as evil ideas in the heads of a few sick politicians.
Some of the good guys, who sympathise but forget to even tell me or offer even moral support, are disgruntled because they feel that their own cowardice is being made evident. And when they learn of the bribes I was offered, they become really disturbed. They feel bad and blame the messenger, one Harold Smith.
Clint Eastwood has his hypocritical and cowardly town elders paint their town buildings red and put on a welcoming party for the cowboy villains cum destroyers of democracy and civilisation whom they have allowed to flourish through their treasonable neglect. I know that hatred and desire for vengeance too. It is negative and pointless, but to pretend one does not feel great anguish and pain at their treachery would be to lie. If I could afford a helicopter, I would drop a thousand gallons of red paint over the offices of the Guardian and the Observer newspapers. I would dig up the bones of countless victims of journalistic genocide and encircle those buildings. It would do no good, but it might assuage the pain in my heart.
15 March 1994
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Hold the Front Page (Howard Hughes, 1931) and as 'His Girl Friday': (Howard Hawks, 1940, and Billy Wilder, 1974)
This is the greatest newspaper comedy of them all, and the one journalists (like almost everybody else) love. Best to see Wilder's coarse and tacky version first, then toss a coin between 1931 and 1940, for they are both great classics. As a Cary Grant fan, I like the 1940 version best, but this is a bonanza of a triple-layered birthday cake for any film buff. This fast, frantic, black farce chronicles journalism as mythology, as a 'vanished race of brittle, cynical, childish people rush around on corrupt errands'. (Pauline Kael).
The journalist is involved if he chooses, but he can always retreat into his role as observer. Each day a new edition with a new story. The central plot in The Front Page involves the intrusion of reality into the partly make-believe concerns of the reporters' room when an anarchist, awaiting execution, escapes and hides in a celebrated roll-top desk.
When a great new nation came into being in 1960, I witnessed its birth. Here was a magnificent, historic event, presented as a triumph for Britain and democracy in our newspapers. Yet I knew it to be a tragedy and a black day for British honour and decency, because Whitehall rigged the independence elections. I have written enough letters to Fleet Street over a period of thirty years, telling the true story, to fill that roll-top desk to overflowing. Like the anarchist in the desk, my story undermines the presentation of a daily rag as 'The Fourth Estate,' a pillar of our freedoms and shield against tyranny. If newspaper columns truly were the first draft of history, the truth of our treason in Africa would have held the Guardian's front page and perhaps altered the course of history, for that treachery dragged in its wake a bloody civil war in which, it is claimed, two million people died.
"Your story is of no interest to our readers," wrote one of the Guardian's senior executive editors. Remarkable in itself, because an acknowledgement is a rare event. No journalist from Britain's national press has spoken to me, seen me, or given me an interview in thirty years, despite my success in being published in small local papers and magazines. The D Notice is deniable and not even necessary, when major government secrets are involved. This is knighthood material and highly prized. What I will not be bought for is quickly put up for sale by hacks seeking honours for dishonourable behaviour.
The papers, which record my battle to make a first draft of history, will shortly be placed in the archive of the Melville Herskovits Library at North Western University, Illinois, courtesy of Professor Jean Herskovits. In a series of essays, of which this is one, I have tried to address the questions historians are already beginning to ask. One of these questions is why Fleet Street or Wapping has refused to publish. Sir James Robertson, the last Governor General of Nigeria, was superbly confident that no one would publish, and told me so. They would not be allowed to, he said. It seems that he was correct. The British Government then proceeded to proclaim, not only a version of history that was totally false, but also that I did not exist. I had never been employed by Government or even been in Africa, so how could I have received secret orders from the Governor General to interfere with the independence elections? The person making a fuss was clearly quite mad.
I have for thirty years felt very close to the anarchist in that roll-top desk. Maybe I too will escape one day and see my story hold 'The Front Page.'
10 July 1992
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Little Caesar (Edward G. Robinson. Mervyn Le Roy, US, 1930)
'Those who live by the sword, die by the sword...' If only it were true! This cautionary note prefaced Warner Brothers' splendid gangster film. Edward G. plays Rico Bandello who makes like Al Capone, and he 'died by the sword' with the memorable words, "Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?"
It was the end of Rico, but the city politicians who looked the other way, and the Chief of Police who terrorised jaywalkers, they did not die by the sword. They died with money in the bank, provided by Rico or Al. Rico was determined to gain sole control of an empire, and died in the struggle. If he had been wearing the cocked hat and plumes of the Queen's personal representative, Sir James Robertson, Governor General of Nigeria, he would have known a few tricks that street criminals were unfamiliar with.
Jimmy Robertson wanted to win sole control of the Nigerian Empire of one hundred nations, and rigged the Independence elections. He chose for his sidekick to put through the big deal, not the dancing gigolo Massara played by Douglas Fairbanks, but the present writer. When I declined this signal honour, Jimmy got tough like Rico, and threatened to have me silenced. As a Balliol man and a Scot, Jimmy put it in a refined manner. "If you don't shut up, means will be found to silence you!"
Jimmy was pretty good, playing Rico. He sounded vain, cruel, jealous and vicious, every inch the ruthlessly ambitious mobster. In truth, Jimmy was a gangster on an epic scale like Hitler and Mussolini, who both adored gangster films. They killed in millions. The crooks Jimmy installed to run Nigeria got their hands in the till, destroyed the opposition and in due course died at the hands of young idealists, sickened by the stench of corruption. By this time, Jimmy was in an English country garden, killing green fly. The civil war, which broke out as a consequence of Jimmy's subverting democracy in Nigeria, took two million, mainly young, lives.
"Why?" I asked Jimmy. We were in his study in Government House, overlooking the lagoon that gave Lagos its name.
"Because it is necessary," he snapped. "Nobody will believe you," Jimmy told me. "And you will never be employed again."
I fled from Nigeria, having surreptitiously obtained an air ticket. I sought help from Whitehall, but they denied knowing me. Indeed, they said that I had never existed. So who was pleading for help? A madman they said. They told that to Julian Amery, who thought he was in charge, as he was a Minister at the Colonial Office and the Prime Minister's son-in-law.
Do you recall Cary Grant at a prestigious Embassy reception trying to alert everyone to the fact that the charming diplomats are Nazis and determined to kill him. What was that film? That was how I felt, seeing distinguished lawyers who told me that it could not be happening. God damn it, it was against the law! We are a democracy! Top civil servants said that it could not happen! It is against all the regulations! They told me that I was a highly thought-of civil servant who was destined for higher things. Such kind people to reassure me that all was well. Then they turned away. I was never employed again. Whitehall had claimed that I did not exist despite being the brilliant young civil servant, who had put great laws on to the statute book of Britain's major African colony. Two million black people truly ceased to exist and they too are forgotten. In their case it is because they are black. Only one person of significance died in the Biafran civil war a British historian has recorded, the rest were common people. "Mother of God, did the British Empire have to end like this?"
'One of the best gangster talkers yet turned out... a swell picture.' (Variety).
(I am indebted to Leslie Halliwell and Time Out as always for filmic insights.)
2 August 1992
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A Matter of Life and Death: - The Staircase to Heaven - (Powell and Pressburger: The Archers: 1946)
And did not the Archers hit their target! A propaganda film, which is nothing like a message film and was released anyway after the war ended. A joyous, heart-warmingly English production - full of a simple patriotism - which must surely be one of the greatest films ever made. A triumph for David Niven, because his nervous limitations and lack of big star quality are just right for his part and contribute to the film's success. Some said that he was never as really nice as this, but he did return from Hollywood to fight, and was truly a gallant soldier.
But what was that target but a love affair between a GI girl and a RAF pilot, symbolising the Allies - Britain and America - working together for victory? Powell said, "...all films are surrealist. They are ... something that looks like the real world but isn't."
The war was over; we had won. Millions had died and it was not then realised that area bombing by the RAF had slaughtered very many women and children. Our gallant RAF aircrews were heroes and butchers at the same time. It was not their fault. But if we excuse them for the necessary slaughter of the innocent, we must excuse the German soldier who obeyed orders too?
Quite what the film is about is not clear, and perhaps that is part of its appeal. It is a beautiful film, and the craftsmanship is everywhere in script, acting, and atmosphere. For those who knew the wartime years, it is superbly accurate. Those were grotesquely happy years for so many of us because, despite privations, we felt good. This was the good, just and necessary war. It was the good people triumphing over evil. True our moral victory was spoiled, inter alia, by Bomber Harris's lack of a moral sense and the way we rapidly rehabilitated the most vile of the Nazi middle ranks and recruited them for our struggle against Communist Russia. Yet democracy had triumphed and the decency, which shines out of Roger Livesey and Niven and Kim Hunter, epitomises a wartime England and the essential England of kind, sweet, warm-hearted, good people we love.
Yet Powell and Pressburger fearlessly show us a heaven full of the war dead who are at peace and serenely happy and untroubled, and Niven is betwixt and between; and there is table tennis and chess and a village and a GP with a camera obscura. Somehow, despite the chaos and evil of war, simple goodness and cheerfulness are portrayed... And the war to end war produced a Cold War and a plague of wars, all too often in poor, neglected areas of the world. One such was in Nigeria. The British had installed a pro- British regime at independence, following fraudulent elections. When that regime was ended by a military coup, civil war broke out and two million innocent young men, women and children ascended Powell and Pressburger's staircase to heaven.
The British deny that two million died because the British foisted a corrupt Government on Nigeria. After all, they have not yet admitted to rigging Nigeria's independence elections, though they assuredly did. In the same way they did not admit to the systematic murder of the German civilian population by area bombing. Sadly, neither in peace nor war does the British Government let truth get in the way of its often covert operations. The thousand-bomber raid which Niven was part of in this film would be said to be bombing military targets. Only the beastly Nazis bombed women and children. Only ten years after our Second Great War to defend democracy, I was ordered by Whitehall to fix Nigeria's elections. A further ten years, and in 1966 the killing, consequent on this treachery which I opposed, would commence.
Unlike the Archers' World War Two epic, there was no good side to the Biafran Civil War. When the evil commenced which led to that civil war, three of us opposed the treachery planned by the British Government. We were swept aside and the other two ran like hell. Like Niven, I too hovered between heaven and earth as I struggled to survive a tropical disease and its crises. My mind left my body and soared into the heavens, and I had the key to all wisdom and was suffused with happiness as I looked down on the planet. But sadly I was made to return to the twisted, agonised body that I glimpsed, sprawled lifelessly on a rumpled bed. I had my own lovely wife to return to, and she nursed me over the years until new medical breakthroughs provided a lifebelt.
I hope that those who have struggled through moral crises find the strength to be true to themselves, and that they too find joy and moral support in this magnificent, English, classic film.
11 July 1992
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Mr Smith Goes to Westminster
(cf. 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington': James Stewart. D: Frank Capra. 1939)
"I am going to make you famous," said the film producer, but the film never got made. Jimmy Stewart's little man came out on top, but that is because it was not real life. So I can dream I came out on top too. Exposing corruption in high places is a dangerous pursuit. Jimmy Stewart's film was thought to be dangerous, too, for setting a bad example and it influenced me. I had four years at Oxford and was stuffed with democracy, decency, freedom and fair play. I went to far more films at Oxford than lectures (maybe six or seven of the latter) and although I read many books on ethics and moral philosophy and the law, it was the Westerns and Twelve Angry Men and the Grapes of Wrath, and the Hollywood- message films in which I really graduated. John Kennedy's father gave the film his personal recommendation while he was Ambassador in
Britain at the outbreak of the war against Hitler and the Nazi evil empire. "This film," said Joseph Patrick, "will do inestimable harm to American prestige all over the world."
Colonialism was a dirty word during the great world struggle for freedom, known as World War Two, and President Roosevelt said he was damned if he was going to pay out millions of dollars so that the British Empire could survive. Suddenly Africa was free to be poverty-stricken and, in Nigeria, pauperised by pro-British patriots in the pay of the Whitehall pariahs. I quit the Colonial Service in 1957 and went up to Church House, HQ of our Empire. This crook was sweating with fear. "You haven't told them... you know... what I did..." I shook my head. This jelly had put through crooked deals in Lagos. His face lit up, and he produced a set of native Nigerian costume and jiggled in it. "They gave me this," he grinned. Outside in the clean air of Victoria, I wondered why I had not pushed this squirmy creep out of a window. For the hell of it, I agreed to return to Nigeria because at heart I loved the place and missed it. I came back to Whitehall in 1960, having secretly obtained an air ticket. The white regime wanted me dead and conveniently I had somehow acquired a rare tropical disease usually found in the Far East. I was losing weight rapidly.
The Governor General did not want me near Westminster. He said that I could have promotion to the top and honours if I would keep my mouth shut and stay in Africa. Julian Amery was the Minister at the Colonial Office and the Prime Minister's son-in-law. I told him that our people had rigged the Independence elections in Nigeria. This one great act was supposed to wipe the slate clean in Africa. We were leaving with honour, having set the African free. Amery asked if I had really been in Africa. The top civil servant had told him that I had never set foot there. They also told Amery that I was insane. My lawyer, who knew Amery, assured him that I was not. They told Amery that Government had never employed me. The lawyer produced my contract. They said it was all a mistake. Of course they knew me, and I had been in Africa, but I was a liar, and crazy. They told Amery, when he persisted, that they could say no more as there had been a fire which had destroyed all my documents and records...
In time I told every Fleet Street editor, and they said, "Piss off." I told the Guardian, a once great newspaper, and they said the same. I told Frank Allaun, a radical MP, and he said, "How very interesting", and showed me the door, and became PPS to the Colonial Office. I told an academic at Oxford, and he was harassed and blackmailed into silence. This had happened to another academic in Lagos, too.
Capra's film was packed with slimy senators. I wrote a novel, telling my story, and it was nominated by the readers for a prestigious US literary prize, but Gore Vidal said that it was all too English - he had forgotten Capra's epic - and the prize was not awarded. Julian Amery's brother had been a traitor. He was hanged because he pleaded guilty. His lawyer was a QC, Tory MP, and a maverick. He cross-examined me to establish that I was telling the truth. He was deeply shocked. "We don't do this kind of thing, Mr Smith!" There was more of this when I met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who told me the Empire was a 'load of bollocks', and we both laughed. The Times and newsreels recorded this manic moment of truth. It seemed best to end that chapter there, as my health deteriorated further. In extremis I discovered God and gained a spiritual calm. Pregnant young girls came to our door, seeking shelter where they could give birth, and we shared what we had. Strangely, those were happy years because we lost sight of our anguish in the troubles of others.
In 1966 the corrupt pro-British politicians, whom we had placed in power in Nigeria, were shot. In the civil war that followed, up to two million young Africans were killed and a territory laid to waste. Where did I go wrong when I went to Westminster? Why did my crusade not work like Capra's? Was it my lack of Jimmy Stewart's fast-talking comic panache? All I lacked was a hard-boiled dame, played by Jean Arthur, to be won over by my honesty, but I did not really need her. I already had a beautiful, very brave, young wife who needed no convincing of my honesty. Our film came out right, but sadly it has not yet gone on general distribution.
12 June 1992
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(Mrs) Sanders of the River (Alexander Korda, 1935)
If the de facto Mrs Sanders was usually a young black girl who has disappeared into the shadowy world she usually inhabited, the white Mrs Sanders, who contributed enormously to the survival of the Empire, also inhabits a shadowy world, for her role is rarely recorded or appreciated. (As always in colonial affairs, what seems a sensible assertion is too readily contradicted. Helen Callaway has compiled a fascinating study of European - usually British -women in Nigeria.)
As the Boys' Own Paper stereotypes are vaguely upper middle-class, public school boys, when women do make an appearance in the literature they are of the same class. We hear much of ADO's, DO's and Residents carrying the flag for Britain. These are the figures mocked for decades by left-wing critics. However, as the radical cynics grow up they sometimes see the light and begin to comprehend that they have caricatured honest, thoroughly decent, and worthy English people, not always very high in the social scale or rich, and none the worse for that.
If we rehabilitate the decent District Officer from his malicious and ill-informed critics, accept the essential role of the too-often unsung Nigerian clerks like Joyce Carey's Mr Johnson, bring centre stage the superb and often long-suffering British wives and their black sisters, the cast is still incomplete. Working-class England was surely represented in Nigeria but, like the women, it is invisible.
I have no idea how many ordinary British artisans served in Nigeria or how common it was for wives to accompany them. When we went out to Lagos on the mv Apapa, there were some railway wives who told us that Ikoyi was rather grand or posh and that they lived in the railway compound at Ebute Metta. How many non-commissioned troops served with the Army? The PWD, Posts & Telegraphs and the Salvation Army were all staffed by first-class people of largely humble origins. Even writing of class, one struggles to avoid snobbery and patronising phrases, but trying to find neutral nomenclature seems an impossible task.
The Labour Department's Commissioner of Labour in 1955 was George Foggon who had worked his way up from being a counter clerk in an Employment Exchange. Peter Cook, his Deputy, had been a railwayman. The Trades Union Officers and Trade Testers were of working class origin. The non-working class strand in the Labour Department consisted of ex-Army officers. We had Lieutenant Colonel Cheesely, Major Bunker, et al. When Vic Beck and I arrived in early 1955 we were, I think, the first graduates to join the Labour Department. We were both working class in origin, but we carried typewriters, the symbol of our new status.
How many other departments employed substantial numbers of working class Britishers? They all made a substantial contribution to the development of Nigeria. Did these working class men emulate the example of their betters and sleep with black girls? Was it always lust or did these lonely, frustrated men also discover love with women with whom they would share a common fate? They would flit about in the margins of the colonial record, as written up in the history books.
3 April 1992
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Touch of Evil (Paramount, 1952)
The main aim and achievement of the colonial administrator was the enforcement of law and order. We were the enforcers and the Africans were the ne'er-do-wells. In a sense, the very criminality of the people ruled is the raison d'être of the ruler. No criminality, no law enforcers, no rulers.
As a lawmaker in Lagos I suppose I should have been familiar with these ideas. As Labour Officers, we had labour legislation, even if of a very insubstantial nature, to enforce. However, we rarely went into court and there was much looking the other way. The people we knew best were not the Africans but our own colleagues and it soon became clear to the rookie administrator that few laws applied to us. We could not really be expected to prosecute each other, that would have been uncivil and letting the side down. In the Labour Department, if one chose not to work, no one gave it a thought. A senior officer could be brought out to do a job that never materialised and he would never be given other duties, except perhaps of a window-dressing kind. He would attend his office and, seemingly never suffering from boredom, would read the papers, then magazines and then sports annuals, racing form and fixtures.
The staff had a relaxed attitude to taking money from the Africans they served. Little and often was the motto and it was astonishing how the 'dash' would accumulate in the bank accounts of the trade testers in the Department. Black mistresses were conventional but Peter Cook, the Deputy, was special in preferring young boys and, although this was not exactly approved of, neither was it frowned on. When Okotie Eboh became Minister of Labour and thought up imaginative plans for making money, he met with no opposition from British officials, even when he came up with the wheeze of selling off the Ministry buildings.
Were we really the law enforcers, one might ask? Charlton Heston had a job like mine in Touch of Evil. He was a narcotics inspector, but he finds that the criminals are not the local people but his own police chief. I had much the same experience when I discovered that the voluminous election laws, designed to ensure fair elections, were flawed. They covered every eventuality that the British could think up to stop skulduggery by the wicked Nigerians, but did not cover chicanery by the British. They might indeed apply to British wrongdoing, but I cannot imagine a British Police Chief arresting our Governor General.
Arrest Sir James Robertson! Why, one asks, would one do that. Well, for a start, he was rigging the Independence elections so that our pro-British favourite Nigerian politicians, i.e. those in the North, would win. Elections are very unsettling and government is about order and stability. It was clearly in everyone's interest if Nigerians would win whom we could work with. This was not sabotaging elections, but actually improving on them. After all, it was our colony and we were not even voting in the election. It was necessary for us to have some say in the outcome. Desirable, necessary and a damned good thing. Such thoughts were clearly in Sir James's mind when he ordered me to play a major role in the election rigging and he was evidently very surprised and not a little displeased when I said, 'No,' and declined to join in.
Like the film made by Paramount in 1958 with Orson Welles as the corrupt police chief, life in Lagos was never quite the same again after I realised who was the chief crook in town. The confusing Paramount plot is laced with violence and perversion, which was much like life in the Labour Department. Indeed, in some respects Lagos was more crooked than the Mexican border town where Orson Welles was running the police force like one of Mrs Thatcher's state monopolies, where the enterprise seems to exist primarily to reward its chief executive with an astronomical income.
Further reversals of morality and convention were evident when Sir James decided to punish me for embarrassing him and calling him a criminal. I was supposedly protected from arbitrary punishment by Civil Service regulations, but Sir James simply ignored them. If I would join in the criminality and stop trying to blow the whistle, I could be much richer and could have honours. In other words, I would be approved of. The alternative, if I chose to be someone who observed the rule of law, was that I would be hounded and thrown out of the service. Government would ensure that I would never be employed again.
I thought that was diabolical. I thought the Governor General had more than a touch of evil. He had blackmailed my friend Michael Crowder, who was homosexual and vulnerable. Still, not everyone thought he was a rogue. One historian wrote a book, in which he extolled Sir James's virtues and said that he was a jolly nice bloke with a great bear hug, and was the best thing since sliced yam. The historian's name was Michael Crowder. Michael had promised me that he would reveal all about the rigging of the elections in his book, but he must have forgotten that he gave me his word. Nice one, Sir James. Not so nice one, old friend Michael.
5 May 1992
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Twelve Guilty Men? - Harold's Cabinet (Man includes Woman)
You saw the film 'Twelve Angry Men' on Channel 4 last Sunday. It is the kind of thing Channel 4 does.
There was this dispute and our Government took sides. Harold Wilson said that the Biafrans were guilty as hell, so he waged war on them. Hold on, the Government waged war on them. Quite so. Strictly speaking, the Cabinet agreed to supply arms to the Northerners who were in control, having shot an Eastern General who was in charge, a General Ironsi. The Northern lot was in control, said Harold, so they were the legitimate Government. So the Cabinet talked it over and backed Harold. That is what we thought at the time, anyway. That is what reminds me of 'Twelve Angry Men.'
In fact we now know that only two members of the Government agreed with Harold and, as one was Harold himself and the other was Michael Stewart who moonlighted for the US State Department, that was the only majority that Harold needed.
The Foreign Office had given Harold evidence that the Easterners were trouble and that the Northerners were nice boys who liked us. That was enough for Harold. He sent more arms for the Lagos crooks to use against the poor Biafrans (the Easterners) than the British Army expended throughout the whole of World War Two. If we did not send arms, said Harold, the Russians would. The Russians did anyway, but that only made Harold send more. Then the French, being absolute rotters who wanted our trade in Nigeria but would not take 'no' for an answer, supplied some arms to the Biafrans.
Harold got deadly serious and threatened really heavy intervention and carried out his threat. He visited Lagos again. We used to limit the treacherous activities of foreigners who wanted to muscle in on our market in Nigeria by burning their mail in the Lagos GPO unopened. I asked the MI6 bloke who chucked the letters in the furnace how he knew which to burn. I supposed that he must be a superb linguist. (I cannot reveal his name as I have given my word to our censorship at the Ministry of Defence that I will not).
'I only speak English, Smithy, old chap,' he said. 'Of course, I've years of experience in Vienna. What I'm telling you is in the strictest confidence.' He tapped his nose. 'Know what I mean?'
I reassured him on that point, having always had the most tremendous admiration for our James Bond boys with their unlimited libido.
'I never open them,' he said. 'I just look at the stamps. Letters from foreign buggers go straight in the fire!'
X slept with a revolver under his pillow. He was, of course, a crack shot, perhaps 007 and a bit. He also slept on his trousers to press them - an old Forces wheeze. If he ever got burgled, he would shoot to kill. One morning he had great difficulty waking up. When he did, he was sans revolver, uniform and everything. I was broken hearted.
Of course, the Northerners were our boys, our stooges, whom we had corruptly placed in power in 1960. Only two million died in the Civil War. Harold said that it only proved how right he was. And nobody of any importance got killed. If Harold has lots of black neighbours wherever he is, I know he will be happy. Ordinary Nigerians are lovely people - kind, hospitable and really sweet.
The Foreign Office are still very anti the French, and Mr Blair does his bit by being very rude to Monsieur Jospin. He paid the French Prime Minister his ultimate insult and called him a Socialist! Tony also warned Jospin not to try stealing our trade with Nigeria while we were engaged in bullshitting the Commonwealth into believing that we were being rough with our military thugs who run things in Nigeria. Now Tony is President of the New Europe which will live for a thousand years, Monsieur Jospin is going to find the postman does not call any more. He might even find Tony putting old fashioned British pounds into his opponents' party funds. He might even find the SAS occupying key points in Paris to protect him from subversion. Incredible? Not really.
Did I mention that we detested beastly Ibo/Biafrans because the Ibo young Majors shot our Northern stooges, headed by the rather sweet Balewa whose only vice was for virgin schoolgirls. (The least the British could do was to arrange a constant supply.)
Tony does not understand (or so my old chums at tell me) that the French think up rude things to say about him, knowing that GCHQ will pick it up and tell the JIC who tell Tony. It is all a tease really but Tony gets really upset. Having said that, Tony seems to have overlooked the fact that the French Secret Service is incredibly professional. It is really very naughty of Jospin to wind Tony up so!
Sadly, in our version of Twelve Angry Men, the Smiths did not succeed like Henry Fonda in turning round the Foreign Office idiots, and some two million Nigerians died. Was Harold drunk or insane or both? Our dear friend Marcia knows, but is not going to tell us. We must ask the French - they are sure to know.
We are giving Monsieur Jospin our account of British treason in Nigeria with regret, as we believe it to be shameful. We want M. Jospin to guide our young and inexperienced leader so that he steers clear from the temptations to which past British Governments have succumbed. We want our Government to turn over a new leaf and set a shining example in Europe for 100% probity and integrity. We are sure that we have Mr Blair's total support in this endeavour.
10 February 1998
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'Z' (France/Algeria, 1968)
How a political murder is made to look like an accident. Z is about fascism working under the surface of conventional crapitalist (stet) politics in Greece. It could never have happened in Nigeria. It is true that Nigeria's great nationalist leader, Dr Zik, was railroaded into the obscurity of a flag-independence Presidency with nil power, but was this not accidental?
Of course, Balewa's benevolent dictatorship, benevolent to his Northern friends and the British, and dictatorial to most of the black polity, did give way to generations of rule by Colonels, and along the way two million died in a bloody, and totally unnecessary, and pointless civil war, but somehow the Greeks seemed to suffer more. After all, white suffering is more real, more poignant, more deeply felt, than blacks' suffering. The white man has so thoroughly brainwashed blacks that they sympathise with the whites who suffered so much in coming to Africa to imprison THEM. This is the ultimate slavery - a mind in handcuffs and chains while the body appears to be free.
When in 1960 I told a Director of BP in London of the suffering of Nigerian workers in Fernando Poo, he said, "Well, if the Spanish don't kill them, the crocodiles will eat them, so what's it matter?"
Another great nationalist leader, Awolowo, was jailed for ten years on trumped-up charges that could have been comic opera, but this was real life. The loss of democracy in Greece quite rightly infuriated liberals in the West, but the total destruction of Nigerian democracy by the British Government excites no interest because Nigerians are black. I would know, because for thirty years I have told Conservative politicians, Labour politicians, Liberal politicians, and all I get by way of response is not even an embarrassed silence but a total lack of reaction. They do not begin to care because they do not begin to understand that blacks are human. These same leaders who detest racism, or so they say, are more objectionable than the racists, in a strange way. The racists are sincere, if ignorant and inadequate people. Our liberals too often practise gentle, loving, benevolent racism. They speak nice words but practise foul deeds by deception, inaction and laziness.
Come on now, I exaggerate. Nigeria was only a beginner in democracy whereas in Greece we behold the birthplace of democracy. Z is based on the true story of Lambrakis, a Professor of Medicine, who was struck down by a truck as he left a peace meeting. Could anything like that happen in Nigeria with its free press? No editor needs fear getting a bomb in the post? It did happen in Nigeria? Well, Z shows how the mechanics of fascist corruption may be hidden under the mask of law and order. The British are fascists? Is that what I am saying? Well, yes. The cold, calculating, evil destruction of democracy at birth in Nigeria is nothing if not fascist. And here our Nigerians, who loved British rule whatever its faults, will protest because they feel uneasy. They have been made to feel that they do not really deserve democracy!
This roman a clef, this political thriller with the style and pace of a gangster movie, exudes what was novel then but is now a cliché - a conspiracy. Those who write of conspiracy are now derided as fantasists in the organs of the establishment, which is itself a permanent organised conspiracy by the privileged against the common people. Well, they would need to cover their treachery, would they not? What else are the papers for?
Will Nigerians one day recover from the trauma of slavery and colonialism and neo-colonialism, and expose their own society to the eye of the liberated filmmaker and the lens of the camera? A is for Awo, B is for Bello and C for the long-suffering common people. Let us hope that, when movie studios in Nigeria supplant Hollywood, moviemakers will nevertheless put the comedy and laughs first and keep the message low key. Ordinary Nigerians are getting poorer and are really in need of a few laughs, as were the American people when Preston Sturges made them laugh with the likes of Sullivan's travels.
10 July 1992
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