Friday, May 17, 2013

Camera Assassin!


by Neil Harris

THERE’S not too much separating the capitalist world from the underworld – the “criminal classes”. In the end, criminals are lazy capitalists; the mentality is much the same, it’s just the work ethic that’s missing.
They tend to have similar tastes when it comes to leisure activities too. So hanging around the sports events, casinos, restaurants, nightclubs, bars and hotels favoured by the rich, you’ll find an entertaining mixture of petty criminals, informants, bent coppers, journalists and the occasional spy: all on the lookout for a good story to sell.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Ian Cutler was up to his neck in all this as a staff photographer for Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper. Cutler made a fortune as a “snapper” but had a knack of annoying powerful people; corrupt police officers and gangsters all took violent revenge on him and he became well acquainted with prison food in his time.
Fallen on hard times now, Cutler has been reduced to selling his self-published memoirs; Camera Assassin II, but your local library isn’t going to be stocking this one any time soon. Ghost written by Eddie Chapman, the burglar, con-artist and wartime double agent, this is a foulmouthed insight into working life at the News of the World.  Luckily for New Worker readers, we’ve carefully read through all the sordid tales of debauchery and excess so that you do not have to.
It wasn’t his first attempt to enter the literary world – he was involved with the legendarily decadent Simon Regan in producing Scallywag, a ruder, cruder and poorer version of Private Eye magazine. Scallywag got sued out of existence by Prime Minister John Major’s caterer although some old issues are still to be found hiding in the murkier areas of the internet.
Cutler now dishes the dirt on his former colleagues at the News of the World and a very grubby world it is too; a lying, boozing, fraudulent world of prostitutes, long liquid lunches and inflated expenses claims that earned the pre-Wapping “Fleet Street” its nickname of “The Street of Shame”. Most of his colleagues seem to have been so preoccupied with getting drunk and having underage sex that they had to resort to making up stories for the paper. Above all, he revels in exposing the hypocrisy that allows “newspapers” like the Sun and the Daily Mail to claim that they stand for press freedom.
There is no indication that Murdoch approved of what went on but he was happy with the circulation figures and the front pages. Occasionally, he would get involved with the paper’s agenda and then their lying became political to supply him with the features he craved.
Murdoch is alleged to have been pre-occupied with “welfare scroungers” and Cutler details how stories were made up for him using models and prostitutes photographed to illustrate how people were working while claiming state benefits. “Every last one of them was a setup. We’d go out, set up a picture, then (Ray) Chapman would invent a story to go with them….”.
The left was always a target for Murdoch so Cutler and his gang were happy to oblige. Ted Knight, the Labour leader of Lambeth Council was a victim: “In efforts to expose ‘Red Ted Knight’, (Ray) Chapman and Cutler paid black models to pose as council workers moonlighting in council time with council equipment”.
The state-owned British Leyland was another battlefield of class struggle and Cutler came up with a fabricated front page story of workers sleeping on the job. Titled “The Goodnight Shift”, this 1979 story was well timed to discredit the Joint Shop Stewards Committee and was one of a number of “stories”’ used to smear the communist chief shop steward, Derek Robinson and to justify his dismissal and victimisation.
Usually it was the vulnerable, the young and the poor who were their victims, with Cutler and his colleagues sniggering at their misfortunes. This culture of sexual exploitation and abuse is one that Jimmy Saville and his circle would have felt at home in and probably were.
This was the world of the capitalist media of the 1970s and 80s. Homophobic, sexist, racist and revelling in sexual violence, these well paid scumbags created the justification for the belittling and domination of more than half of the working class – those who were female, gay or from ethnic minorities. That made it all too easy to for them to take on the remainder: it’s called divide and rule.
And then the News of the World moved to Wapping, leaving behind the old Fleet Street, its drinking culture and 3,600 victimised printers. It was now using new technology with a non-union workforce and the papers were providing a steady stream of cash to fund Murdoch’s worldwide ambitions. The new generation of media bosses running the propaganda machine were sober, efficient people like Rebekah Wade and Andy Coulson but that’s waiting for another book and a different author.

The book, written by Ian Cutler and Eddie Chapman, has now been updated as Camera Assassin 111 and it can be downloaded in Kindle or PDF format for just £2.95 at Print copies are sometimes available from website mail-order booksellers.

Monday, May 06, 2013

A manor in a housing estate

By Carole Barclay

FOR SOMEONE who grew up in Dagenham, Valence House has always had a special place in my heart and is a reminder of a rural Dagenham long since forgotten. It is the only manor house left in the borough and within its walls are relics and mementoes from Roman days right up to the 21st century.
Some parts of the house date back around 700 years and it was most recently a working farm run by the May family until it was compulsorily purchased in 1921 to make way for the building of what was to become the largest council estate in Europe.
The museum opened its doors to the public in 1937 and was initially just a small collection of finds run by the local library and open only a few afternoons a month, while the rest of the house was used for public meetings and local exhibitions. Two major renovations, including a major revamp in 2007 financed partly by a Heritage Lottery grant have transformed it into one of finest local museums in Greater London.
People settled the area during the Stone Age and the display of their tools and other flint implements is the path through which visitors wend their way through the building. Finds include the “Dagenham Idol” – a Neolithic wooden totem unearthed during sewage works in 1922. A scattering of  finds testifies to the impact of four centuries of Roman rule, while Saxon and medieval Dagenham is well represented in the history of nearby Barking Abbey and the local manor houses which were all swept away when the great Becontree council estate was built to provide “homes fit for heroes” after the First World War.
            In the 20th century Dagenham was virtually synonymous with the Ford motor company, which until recently provided employment for a large number of workers. It was also known for the Dagenham Girl Pipers, a bagpipe marching band set up by an eccentric Congregational church minister in the 1930s that continues to entertain people to this day. You can see them in the small museum cinema that screens a rotating series of films created by the Dagenham Cooperative Film Society, which highlight life on the Becontree Estate.
            The nearby Valence Park, a fragment of the original estate, contains a children’s playground while the museum grounds boast a beautiful herb garden that also includes a restored Anderson air-raid shelter from the Second World War as well as a bookshop, cafĂ© and archive collection for students and scholars of all ages.  Valence House, like many estates in Essex, was moated and the building is still surrounded by most of the ancient water course, a haven for ducks and the local Becmain Angling Club!
            Valence House is not the easiest to find if you don’t know your way around the estate so take a map with you. The nearest stations are Chadwell Heath and Dagenham Heathway but they are both a 20 minutes walk away from the park. Admission is free and the museum is open daily from 10am to 4pm, apart from Sundays at: 

Valence House Museum
Becontree Avenue
Dagenham RM8 3HT
Phone: 020 8227 5293 or 2034.