Forgeries, freeconomics and Freddie Krueger

Britain's government wants fans involved in the arts, while Israel's says "sorry" to dead pop stars.

Happy Hippy Times

The book is dead, long live the e-book: Amazon’s Kindle has been launched – and immediately sold out. It seems likely that the literature industry will be transformed by this, and publishers and writers might want to keep an eye on the music industry, where technology has also worked some startling changes. Excitement about Qtrax, the free (and legal) online music station, proved anti-climatic as the website was suspended just before its launch (putting HMRC’s woefully unsteady tax returns website in good company); leading record labels denied having licence agreements with Qtrax. The music moguls seem united in their disapproval of ”freeconomics”: in a speech entitled Who Is Making All The Money And Why Aren’t They Sharing It?, U2 manager Paul McGuinness laments the role of technology in the entertainment industry, blaming Silicon Valley’s ”hippy values”.

Happy hippies or not, in these troubled times of global credit instability it may be a little comforting to know that sometimes the people making all the money are not spending it either. Family forgers George and Olive Greenhalgh (84 and 83 respectively), and son Shaun (47), were found guilty of creative impressive forgeries of sculptures, paintings, and historic artefacts from their back garden, and selling them to collectors and museums. The family is reported to have made around £1m from their forgeries (over 17 years) and had more works that could have sold for a further £10m – but continued to live in their council flat. In defence of Mr Greenhalgh Junior, his barrister said that Mr Greenhalgh "had only one outlook, and that was his garden shed".

Forces of Darkness

From the back garden to the world stage: 43 years after being banned from Israel as morally hazardous, the Beatles have been apologized to, and invited to perform. Which is nice. But perhaps too late for some.

Closer to home, the new Bond film has been announced, the directors once again engaging with issues of contemporary international problems. Quantum of Solace, aka “Bond 22”, features a villain played by Oscar-feted Mathieu Amalric: when asked who had inspired his character, Amalric replied ”Tony Blair and Nicholas Sarkozy” . Coming at a time when Sarkozy has proposed Blair for “President of Europe”, perhaps we should be taking note.

Following the tremendous and heartening show of solidarity in the arts world reported here, the Arts Council cuts are now off. Meanwhile new Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s proposals that fans get involved in the boards of arts organisations are set to revolutionise the relationship between audiences, critics, funders, and fans. Watch this space.

Great men of history

After the widespread relief about the Royal Academy’s From Russia exhibition going ahead, it is sad news, then, that the man credited with bringing it to Britain, the Royal Academy’s Norman Rosenthal, is stepping down as Secretary. Among his other successes were Aztecs, Turks, and Unknown Monet, and he is also the man who famously shed blood for an artwork at the ICA, spat at a critic, and took part in Alternative Miss World dressed as a newt. He will be a hard act to follow.

Another surprise departure this week is Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo . Apparently the Rocky and Rambo franchises, at a total of 10 films between them, have lost their lustre for Stallone who would prefer instead to get involved in “heart-warming dramas and off-beat comedies”. Apprehensions that Hollywood studios will now have to look for something original can be swiftly suppressed: Freddie Krueger is set to return , subject to the availability of screenwriters. With casualties like these, long may the strike moulder.

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit