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Vol. 9 No. 2 · 22 January 1987

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Stalker & Co

SIR: I had been going to say, in response to Mr Davies (Letters, 18 December 1986), that he overlooked one of the main points in my article about the parallel cases of Mr Stalker and the Manchester students: that I did consider Mr Stalker responsible, as Deputy Chief Constable, for any breach of discipline by officers of the Greater Manchester Police; and that I did deplore his refusal to take complaints arising from the Brittan visit seriously. I would also have pointed out that Mr Stalker’s rebuttal of these charges was made a year ago, and entertained the possibility that his own experience at the hands of his colleagues in Manchester since then might have led him to change his mind. But, of course, the whole situation has now changed with Mr Stalker’s decision, made on 19 December, to resign from the Police Force. The circumstances surrounding his resignation were predictably bizarre. An informal inquiry about early retirement addressed by John Stalker to Chief Constable James Anderton one day was translated into an effective resignation the next, with the ready concurrence of the Police Authority. Mr Stalker himself was out of town that day. Although it is true that Mr Stalker has publicly stated that ‘I have no complaint about the manner in which the formalities of my resignation were dealt with,’ it still seems strange that the body which reinstated him in August should have made no attempt to retain his services in December.

This is not the main point, however. Nor, perhaps, should one dwell too much on the incident which precipitated Mr Stalker’s resignation: the re-opening of the Moors Murders inquiry without his concurrence, and the stage-managing of that episode by Detective-Superintendent Peter Topping (who participated in the inquiry into John Stalker himself, where he was equally unable to find anything) – except in so far as this grotesque Gothic diversion may be understood as an elaborate and expensive Christmas pantomime, complete with witch on broomstick, to distract the Manchester public from the alarming realities of policing in this city. We are subject to the arbitrary decisions of a Chief Constable who once hinted that he was the reincarnation of Oliver Cromwell, and now claims divine inspiration for fulminating against his moral inferiors. His universally respected Deputy is forced to resign because he has found it impossible to do his work. Meanwhile, as the crime rate rises, senior detectives – perhaps with good reason – are burying their heads like ostriches on Saddleworth Moor. No wonder two local Labour MPs, Terry Lewis and Tony Lloyd, have written to the Prime Minister calling for an inquiry into the Manchester force. And the Conservative MP Cecil Franks must have articulated the thoughts of many when he said that it is James Anderton rather than John Stalker who should now be tendering his resignation. Luckily for us, two newspapers, the Guardian and the Observer, have kept us informed. And a Guardian editorial on 22 December looked beyond Mr Stalker’s personal tragedy to the public outrage it represents, expressing ‘serious local concern about Manchester’s policing’ and urging ‘a fresh national look at the governance of the Police’. Most interestingly, a Chief Inspector from another force, who had himself experienced obstruction when working on an internal police inquiry five years ago, wrote (on 27 December) insisting on the importance of Stalker’s case, and recommending the appointment of a police ombudsman.

Significantly, John Stalker has received no support whatever from his own professional body: the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). And this cannot simply be because James Anderton is its current chairman. The recent Channel 4 Inquiry into the Police, broadcast on 7 December, identified the development of ACPO during the life of the present government as a sinister step towards the establishment of an unacknowledged legislature in this country. Merlyn Rees pointed out that the present powers of ACPO have never been recognised by Parliament; and yet a tame electorate stood by while chief constables acted as Mrs Thatcher’s generals during the miners’ strike. (Scandalously, Mrs Thatcher warns against the politicising of the Police by a future Labour administration.) Meanwhile, we (still) await the public prosecutor’s response to police activity during and after the Brittan visit. The signs are not encouraging. John Stalker has resigned. His colleague John Thorburn, the ‘best detective in Manchester’, has also resigned. Steven Shaw is an outlaw. Sarah Hollis is silent. What broods now upon the vast abyss? Apocalyptic imagery is catching: perhaps the Second Coming is at hand – in which case Yeats’s rough beast begins to look unnervingly like James Anderton.

Damian Grant
University of Manchester

The Strange Death of Mehmet Shehu

SIR: I am sorry that the discussion of Mehmet Shehu’s death has become lengthy and acrimonious. Jon Halliday’s summary in your last issue of what he originally said obscures the point which caused me to intervene in the first place. Anyone who cares to refer to the original article (LRB, 9 October 1986) will see that it refers only to a single Albanian visit to London, that it states that on this visit Puto’s researches ‘got past the file containing the most damning evidence about Britain’s hopes for Shehu’ (November 1944 on Halliday’s showing), and that it reveals no knowledge of any earlier publication of the material in Puto’s book than the English edition of 1981. The purpose of my first letter was simply to point out that the existence of Albanian articles from 1972-3, a German edition of 1980 and (as I later surmised) an Albanian edition perhaps in 1976, the date appended to the German introduction, considerably reduces the significance of the English publication of the documents of 1939-44 in 1981 as a pointer to Shehu’s death later that year. It was only in reply to my letter that Mr Halliday brought in the ‘second visit’. If that is not shifting ground I don’t know what is.

As Mr Halliday now presents his case, we have to assume a. that what he originally called ‘the most damning evidence against Shehu’ was withheld by the FO in the 1972 release, or b. that it was there all the time, but Puto and Co failed to spot it, or c. that more evidence damning to Shehu was contained in the records of 1945 onwards and released between 1972 and 1980. Both a. and b. are possible but strike me as highly unlikely. As regards c, since Mr Halliday has worked in the PRO and I have not, he can perhaps tell us what this was.

I certainly would not exclude a second visit around 1980 – though this remains hypothetical. Its occurrence is certainly not proved by the mention of the release of documents covering 1945-1949 in the English introduction to Puto, for that apparently says nothing more than could be deduced from the 30 years release rule. If documents later than December 1944 are included in the English volume (despite its title), can Mr Halliday tell us what they are and so settle that at least? So far, in spite of his repeated claim that there is ‘post-1972 material’ in the Puto volume, he has not done so. Meanwhile, nothing is gained by deriding arguments as ‘ridiculous’, a ‘farrago’ or ‘irrelevant’, nor do I understand in what strange way I can be the victim of ‘megalomania’.

Frank Walbank

Polish Jewry

SIR: We were grateful for Jonathan Steinberg’s friendly review of our book The Jews in Poland and for the mention of our journal Polin (LRB, 18 December 1986). We should like to point out, however, that this journal of Polish-Jewish studies covers not only ‘the last two centuries of the history of Jews and Poles’ but the whole millennium of the Polish-Jewish interaction.

Anthony Polonsky
Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, Oxford


SIR: Your contributors seem to be unhappy with figures. Frank Kermode (LRB, 4 December 1986) says that ‘before the war, a Penguin cost 6d; now it can be £3.95, 79 times as much.’ But sixpence was one-fortieth of a pound, so the correct figure is not 79 but 158. In the same issue Mary-Kay Wilmers, reviewing Michael Davie’s book on the Titanic, tells us that ‘in the case of the men, 34 per cent of those who survived were first-class passengers,’ whereas what Mr Davie wrote was that 34 per cent of male first-class passengers survived. Perhaps Ms Wilmers thinks this is the same thing.

D.A.H. Evans
Blackrock, Co. Dublin

Old Spellings

SIR: Barbara Everett’s review of John Kerrigan’s edition of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets (LRB, 18 December 1986) contains a criticism which is implicit rather than explicit: all her quotations from Shakespeare give the original spelling and punctuation, whereas Kerrigan’s edition uses modernised spelling and punctuation. It would be interesting to have an explicit rather than implicit answer to this question: is there any convincing argument for Shakespeare not to be printed in the original style? As Herbert Farjeon said in his Nonesuch edition, ‘after the old text, has not the modern something of the flatness of soda-water after champagne?’

Nicolas Walter
London N1

Barbara Everett writes: It is desirable to have good modern – i.e. modernised – texts of all the older writers. But scholars and critics, especially when concerned with textual points and with cruces of meaning, in works as difficult as Shakespeare’s can be, will find it necessary to study the earliest printed texts (or, where extant, the manuscripts) in order to form their independent judgment.

While there’s still time

SIR: Mike Selvey’s diary piece in your last issue (LRB, 8 January) hits several nails on the head, and he is at least half-right in his assertion that ‘the real enemy of cricket as she is known is the limited overs stuff.’ The game is subject to its own version of Gresham’s Law, with bad cricket driving out good: in recent years this has been made especially clear by the way in which short-pitched fast bowling has begun to dominate all levels of professional cricket, and not just the one-day game. The ability to deal with this kind of bowling has become the central qualification for the modern county batsman. At Test Match level, the West Indies use of fast bowlers operating in quartets has led to a new kind of game, making a West Indies v. Anyone Else Test Match both extremely boring (for the spectators) and extremely dangerous (for the participants). The fast bowling idea was brutally simple and effective, and the ensuing cartoon cricket will continue to dominate, notwithstanding the domestic tinkerings of the Palmer Report, until some kind of control is exercised over those bowlers who habitually aim at the batsman’s body rather than at the wicket. With umpires apparently reluctant to exercise powers given to them under the laws of the game, the best solution might be the recently-mooted abandonment of the second new ball: this would reduce the effectiveness of the day-long speed assault and allow more scope for spin bowling and the subtler, more interesting kind of cricket it permits. It would be a pity if this change of the rules, or one resembling it, were to have to wait until a batsman has been killed.

John Lanchester

Upper-Class Casualties

SIR: Glad to see the correspondence I initiated about upper-class casualties in the First World War still trundles on. If it is to continue, however, may I suggest a certain tightening of definitions? Since there are no figures for proportions of various classes among either serving members or those killed in action, the rough-and-ready distinction must be between officers and other ranks. The war was fought on several fronts, and by three different branches of the Services. We cannot narrow down our sample to the area, the period and the troops of the Army in France during particular battles, say the Somme or Loos, and generalise from those experiences.

What I was querying was not the comparatively minor imbalance between percentages of officers and men killed over individual years, I wanted to know whether it was, or was not, true that the Great War had finally made ‘England’ suffer a lasting wound to its cultural, intellectual, moral health due to the huge bite taken from its privileged youth, those who would supply future poets, philosophers, statesmen, the so-called ‘Lost Generation’. I must say no one so far has convinced me that this is not largely a myth. Peter Parker (Letters, 8 January) provides some compelling reasons for believing that the public school/university recruits ought to have been much more vulnerable, because of their commissioned rank, than the working-class NCOs and privates. His final citation of an actual statistic hardly bears this out: 13 per cent of officers dead against 10 per cent of men. J.M. Winter, the Cambridge specialist whose book The Great War and the British People provided the statistics for an earlier contribution to this correspondence, gives the figure of 15.2 per cent of serving officers killed, and 12.8 of serving men. Even if this way of analysing the death toll is accepted, it is hardly a nightmare vision of disproportion. The actual numbers for the Army were 37,484 officers and 635,891 others. There were pit villages as heavily hit as Harrow School.

Before I go on to suggest that another, equally reliable exercise in arithmetic may provide contradictory evidence, I should mention that in the Royal Navy, where all risks were equally shared, the percentage of officers lost was just over 5 per cent compared with nearly 7 per cent of ordinary matelots. In the RFC, where almost every flyer was commissioned, almost 17 per cent of officers died in action against less than 1 per cent of the rest. It is difficult for anyone, especially those now far removed from actual killing, to realise what such numbers mean. John Terraine in his recent study of the RAF in the Second World War notes that the total of British officers, all Services, killed by 1918 was 38,834. He then points out that in my war and my service (RAF aircrew 1939-45) 55,573 of us were killed out of a total of not much more than a hundred thousand. We do not hear much of this ‘Lost Generation’, a far greater proportion of the total casualties, both proportionally and absolutely, than the golden dead of the earlier war.

But my reason for still doubting the great upper-class holocaust is contained in an earlier study by J.M. Winter, Britain’s ‘Lost Generation’ (Population Studies 31). After tables already reproduced by an earlier correspondent here, of annual totals showing the proportion of officers’ deaths as regularly almost twice that of other ranks, he mentions that 275,121 men served as officers in the Great War – 5.28 per cent. And then that 5.57 per cent of those killed were officers. Statistics are funny things. But this one seems to me to suggest that when the final count was made as many of the upper class were killed as might have been expected. In defining his search for the ‘Lost Generation’ J.M. Winter proposes that he might expect that 10 per cent of the Army were officers and 20 per cent were killed. From this, he says, ‘it would be safe to conclude that officers bore a disproportionate share of war losses.’ 5.57 to 5.28; 15.2 to 12.8; 13 to 10? None of these seem to me to support the proposition of wholesale slaughter of the jeunesse dorée between 1914 and 1918.

Alan Brien
London NW5


SIR: I await Barbara Everett’s piece on Philip Larkin with interest, since you mention An Enormous Yes in your issue of 8 January. (My favourite anecdote is the poet’s gentle rebuke to someone who expressed surprise when offered a lift in a car: ‘What did you expect, bicycle clips?’) In addition, the Guardian has already mentioned Alan Bennett’s Diary about Neville Smith’s recollection of Larkin. Truly ‘gossip is the acceptable face of intellect’ (Kafka’s Dick).

Peter Anghelides
Kennington, Oxford

Violet Hunt

SIR: For a biography of Violet Hunt (1862-1942), novelist and ‘self-proclaimed’ wife of Ford Madox Ford, I would like any letters, original material, photographs, recollections, whereabouts of her Fogg-Elliott and Benson relatives. Also any biographical information on James Brand Tinker (1863-1922), literary agent to just about every Edwardian writer.

Barbara Belford
38 Great Percy Street, London WC1

Victoria Woodhull Martin

SIR: For a definitive biography of American social reformer and editor Victoria Woodhull Martin (1838-1927), I would appreciate hearing from anyone with letters and other manuscript materials to, from or concerning Mrs Martin or her sister, Lady Tennessee Claflin Cook (1845-1923).

Susan Kullmann Puz
P.O. Box 243, Claremont, CA, USA 91711

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