Just a Wee Blether…

About Dr Who – the latest incarnation

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth this week over the long-awaited return of a certain popular TV show. Newspapers, social media – every form of media in fact – have deliberated over it, and surgically picked apart the perceived rights and wrongs.

No, it’s not Game of Thrones. I’m referring, of course to the old time-traveller himself, Dr Who, returning for his 13th series.

Oops, did I say HIM-self? Have I been left behind in some distant galaxy? The nub of the current furore, the weeping and wailing of the past week, has surrounded the decision to cast a female, Jodie Whittaker, in the role of the Doctor, a character that has been portrayed as a man since the beginning of time – well, 1963.

The resultant uproar has thundered across the airwaves. Devotees have yelled, ‘I’ll never watch Dr Who again’ or ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ or ‘It’s a change too far’ or the classic ‘We’ve lost a male hero’.

All of which, with due respect, is baloney. Total nonsense. If you truly are a Dr Who devotee – which I am not – you would know better to suggest or believe that the leading character in the saga must always appear as male.

Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the first Dr Who, William Hartnell. In fact, I remember the first episode, which was broadcast in the UK the day after JFK was assassinated. I also distinctly remember my parents humming and hawing about whether this other-worldly new show was suitable for a young lad like me.

Dr Who was the televisual sensation of the year. Us kids all played daleks in the primary school playground. The timelord and his assistants were out of this world – quite literally. It was classic good guys vs bad guys – with the good guys always winning.

The question of who the Doctor really was and where he, she, or it came from never mattered. Until William Hartnell decided to call it quits. The newspapers were full of the dilemma facing the show producers. Either call a halt to the wildly popular series or somehow replace the leading character in a way that enabled some form of continuity.

And so, the extra-terrestrial doctor gained the ability to ‘regenerate’. Hartnell, an elderly, grey-haired man, was replaced by the younger, dark-haired Patrick Troughton, then the dapper and flamboyant Jon Pertwee, and so on. All this was explained away by the doctor not being a human, but an alien being who could transmogrify – or change appearance – when circumstances dictated.

All of which means that Dr Who can just as easily be a female as a male. In fact, the Doctor could conceivably appear as anything from a giant rabbit or a Darth Vader-like alien to a Scottie dog or even an inanimate object. Colour is no barrier, neither is ethnicity.

There is no justification for the complaints about the choice of Jodie Whittaker being too much of a change. The doctor has always been changing, this is simply the latest incarnation, no change is ever ‘too much’. Political correctness doesn’t enter the argument, since it was never specified that the Doctor was male. And losing a male hero? Seriously, people!

If it was a female James Bond or a male Miss Marple, I could understand the argument. Much is possible in the name of art, but these were literary characters with a clear and identifiable gender. The good Doctor is different.

For my money, the best Dr Who portrayal was by Tom Baker (pictured) and his very long and colourful scarf. I thought his namesake Colin Baker was atrocious and lost interest in the show at that point. To be honest, I had been rooting for Tilda Swinton as the first female but it will be interesting to see how Jodie Whittaker deals with the role.

If you really are a Dr Who devotee, you’ll take this change in your stride, safe in the knowledge that nothing has really changed. That this is the latest step on a long, time-travelling journey. And, I would suggest, time to end the wailing and gnashing.

Just a Wee Blether…

About tapes, presidents and ‘fake news’

A few months ago, I was watching a Netflix documentary about the JFK assassination. A good part of it focused on the setting up of the Warren Commission – the men who concluded that the alleged Commie sympathizer (by then dead) was single-handedly responsible for killing the President.

The programme featured a conversation between Lyndon B Johnson and a senator from Georgia called Richard Russell, during which the new President persuaded the senator to serve on the Commission. What struck me most was that this call – made from the White House in 1963 – had been taped and that the recording is still available to broadcasters. It’s even on YouTube.

Fast forward a decade, and another set of recordings – the Watergate Tapes – proved the final nail in Richard Nixon’s Presidential coffin. The taping system had been installed in Nixon’s Oval Office desk and captured the incriminating conversations. This was 44 years ago, remember.

Nixon’s departure was, of course, aided by arguably the greatest ever example of investigative journalism. Watergate would never have happened had it not been for the tenacity of Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post. The power of the press allied to advances in technology had brought down a President.

We now inhabit the digital age. It can be dizzying to say the least. Everything is recorded – from our meetings with colleagues to the road trips we take to the communications we send and receive. Unless you are careful and clever in the extreme, your movements and your conversations will become a matter of record. It’s inescapable.

And what of the current incumbent of the White House – the son of a Scotswoman, let’s not forget? I’ve been loath to get involved in Trump-related matters in this blog, but it’s the only story in town over here. Is he displaying care, intelligence, sensitivity, or even a manner befitting his position given that his every move, his every tweet, is being recorded for posterity?

Of course not. To be honest, with every passing day his Presidency becomes more bewildering and confusing. His twitter account screams ‘Fake News’ as he tries to persuade the world that events which were undoubtedly recorded never actually happened.

When I was a cub reporter in the early 1970s, the big American papers – Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal – were regarded as the best in the world. Trump now rails against what he calls the ‘Failing New York Times’.

At the same time, his young Presidency is embroiled in what seems to be scandal after scandal. A special counsel has been appointed to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the contacts he and his team may have had with Russia during the election campaign. Last week it was revealed that his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met a Russian lawyer who promised to dish the dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Every phone call and email he and his campaign team made, and every meeting they had before the election and since is traceable. And let’s not forget the ‘golden shower’ tape in a Moscow hotel room. That was revealed in a report by a former British spy and made public by none other than the so-called fake media.

Of course, that tape exists and so do many other damaging recordings. If Trump doesn’t realise that then he has bigger problems than we all imagine. It’s very possible a copy is locked in a safe deep in the offices of the ‘failing New York Times’. I suspect we’ll find out one day.

From day one, Trump has faced questions of competency. These have intensified to the point where serious political commentators, both Democrats and Republicans, now regularly appear on radio and TV stations and state without hesitation that he doesn’t have the mental capacity for the job. It’s not a question of perhaps, it is said as a matter of fact.

It doesn’t help that he blunders around the world stage like a bull in a china shop, pushing other dignitaries out of the way, leering at the wives of fellow presidents, and displaying a general lack of understanding of the important stuff – the matters that exercise the minds of world leaders.

In many ways, it’s difficult to know why he ever wanted the job. He quite simply isn’t up to it. Give him his due, he has proved a very effective orator, he can roil up an audience and tell them what they want to hear. To date, however, he has achieved practically nothing.

Every day over here, a new sensational headline emerges. The Republican Party, which never wanted him as a candidate in the first place, will tolerate him until he has outlived his usefulness. The Russian probe might prove his undoing but if not, as sure as night follows day, a scandal will emerge that will push his Presidency over the edge of the cliff and that will be the end of it.

The events of last week were the clearest example of the dangerous game he and his henchmen are playing. The meeting between his son and the Russian lawyer was exposed by that down-market rag they call the New York Times – where the reporters have contacts in every country in the world and every government agency in the US.

Trump still retains the support of a decreasing but fairly substantial number of Americans. But he is seen by many as an embarrassment – especially his tweeting habit – and unless he does something for those who voted for him, that decrease in support will continue.

Trump was clearly enjoying himself during the campaign when he swept aside Little Marco, Lying Ted, Crooked Hillary and the rest. It’s not such a laugh now that he’s in office and expected to be presidential and diplomatic.

All these years after Watergate, my gut feeling is that the combination of new technology and the power of the media will, one way or another, bring down another President.

Just A Wee Blether…

About finding 4th of July a damp squib

No disrespect to any of my newly-found American friends, but the Independence Day, Fourth of July celebration is not my favourite holiday. To be brutally honest, apart from getting a day off work, I find it all a bit boring. In modern-day parlance, it’s…meh.

It’s nothing to do with the fact the pesky colonists achieved their independence fair and square from us Brits. Not at-all. Who can blame them? And let’s face it, both nations are in great shape right now. Aren’t they?

No, it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why I find the Fourth of July such a turn off. The day doesn’t have the same anticipation and excitement reserved for other holidays – Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving for example.

Of course, Independence Day brings an outpouring of American patriotism, and let’s face it, no country does patriotism quite like America. But after a couple of years here, you get used to flag-waving and grown men crying at the National Anthem.

But that’s true of every country – America being America, it just does it bigger. We’ve all seen Scots getting misty-eyed when Flower of Scotland is playing.

Patriotism is not my biggest Fourth of July bugbear. That honour goes to the massive – and I mean massive firework displays held all over the country. More specifically, the amount of money ploughed into them.

In 2016, it was estimated that, between small domestic displays and large-scale city events, America spent more than $1 billion on fireworks on Independence Day. That’s a ridiculous amount of money for a nation that struggles to house the homeless, feed the poor, and provide basic health care for millions of citizens.

When I was young I always looked forward to Guy Fawkes night. And even this year I watched three-year old Ford whoop with delight as the fireworks were set off.

I’m no party-pooper but the bottom line is that cities like New York, Boston, and Nashville – where three of the biggest displays are held – could have used the firework cash on other things.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the Fourth of July in Phoenix falls during the annual crazy heat spell – it was 112F last Tuesday. The rest of the country isn’t much better. Most of the east coast and the southern states are struggling with stifling humidity.

Who Knows? Perhaps in a couple of years, I’ll grow into the Fourth of July and start to enjoy it. All I can say right now is roll on Thanksgiving. Now there’s a holiday worth waiting for.

Just a Wee Blether…

About Scot who died saving Roosevelt

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ‘put a kilt’ on a story. The expression is newspaper parlance for ‘Scottify-ing’ or ‘tartanising’ a story that has originated in another part of the world – usually England.

The Scottish influence in America is so great that, if you try hard enough, you can put a kilt on almost any story that crops up on a given news day.

Take the recent case of a gunman who shot at Republican politicians in Washington DC as they trained for a charity baseball against Democratic opponents. He wounded four people, and narrowly missed many others before being shot and killed by two members of a Capitol Police detail, who were among the injured.

Had it not been for the armed police, the incident could have been a massacre. The officers were there to provide physical protection to the high-ranking representative who was shot, Steve Scalise. They give the same protection that Secret Service agents offer when assigned to shadow the President.

Employing Secret Service personnel to guard the US President and other world leaders seems routine nowadays, but the practice was only introduced in America at the start of last century, after the assassination of William McKinley.

And the first agent to die in the line of duty was none other than a man from Glasgow, William Craig, who effectively gave his life to save that of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Craig was born in 1885 and grew up in Glasgow’s Townhead area, the son of a newspaper compositor. He was a giant of a man – 6ft 4ins and 18.5 stones (260lbs). Big Bill, as he was called, spent 12 years in a British cavalry unit, and had been a bodyguard to Queen Victoria before moving to Chicago in 1889.

Eleven years later – in 1900 – Craig joined the US Secret Service. In 1901 President McKinley was shot dead in Buffalo, and it was decided that the incoming President Roosevelt should be given the protection of an SS agent. The blonde haired, blue-eyed, physically imposing Scotsman, an expert boxer and swordsman, was assigned the task.

Craig stood head and shoulders over the President and all his chief officials. He was always impeccably dressed – suit, shirt and tie, waistcoat and bowler hat, even a top hat on occasion.

The incident that wrote his name in the US history books took place in September 1902, in the town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It happened less than a year after the death of McKinley and, had it not been for Craig’s prompt actions, America would have lost two Presidents within 12 months.

Roosevelt, a dashing and charismatic character, was visiting Pittsfield while on a speaking tour of New England. Such a visit was a huge deal in those days, and the town was in a state of great excitement.

As the Presidential landau, being pulled by four horses, was leaving Pittsfield, many other vehicles accompanied it to cheer Roosevelt and get a glimpse of the great man. One of the vehicles was an electric trolley car which had been lagging. The driver sped up to try to catch Roosevelt’s carriage – with tragic consequences.

The trolley car caught up with Roosevelt (pictured) and his party – but as it hurtled down a hill towards the landau, the brakes failed and it careered straight towards the horse-drawn vehicle. A collision was inevitable.

Craig spotted the danger. He stood up and yelled to the trolley driver to slow down. Then, with the speeding trolley only feet away, he placed his own body between the tramcar and the President. The Scotsman was killed instantly.

Roosevelt was thrown 30 feet and suffered cuts and bruises to his head. It was reported he had to be physically restrained from attacking the trolley driver. Two others in the landau, including the Governor of Massachusetts, were uninjured. Of the four horses, one was killed while the other three bolted, dragging the carriage for yards.

Big Bill Craig, from Townhead in Glasgow, became an American hero that day. In his home country, few people know of his story. Roosevelt was said to have been devastated by his death – he referred to Craig as ‘my shadow’.

The President said, “He was a sturdy character and tremendously capable in performing his duties. My children thought a great deal of him, as we all did. I was fond of him. He was faithful and ready, and I regret his death more than I can say.”

Teddy Roosevelt went on to become one of the most popular of all the US Presidents. But if it hadn’t been for the bravery and quick thinking of Bill Craig, he would never have left behind his great legacy, and a different President’s face would have been chiselled on Mount Rushmore.