John Pilger's books of the year

Find out which books make up the NS columnist's "moral and intellectual survival kit".

We've asked friends and contributors of the New Statesman to tell us their favourite books of 2010. You can read the full list here, but we'll also be publishing selected entries on Cultural Capital over the next few days. To begin with, here is John Pilger's pick:

In another year distinguished by the silence of fiction writers about rapacious wars and a society at home assaulted by extremists in power in Westminster - a silence exemplified by the Man Booker Prize short-list and its compromise winner - three books are a blessed relief. The first is Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam by the historian Mark Curtis (Serpent's Tail). Excavating long forgotten official files, Curtis illuminates the darkest corners of Britain's critical role in the rise of islamicism as a means of blocking Arab nationalism and guarding western "interests". He explains much about the current colonial adventures. In Newspeak in the 21st Century (Pluto) by David Edwards and David Cromwell, the editors of the website Medialens.org brilliantly decode the propaganda that so often passes for news and give us with an A to Z of how corporate journalism demonises "our" enemies, from Venezuela to Iran. My other choice for finding out how power works is Noam Chomsky's latest bonfire of the illusions and falsehoods that masquerade as public policy. This is Hope and Prospects (Haymarket Books). All three books provide a moral and intellectual survival kit in these extraordinary times.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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How Dame Vera Lynn was told to “posh her accent up”

Radio 2’s 100th-birthday tribute reveals how Lynn was forced to change her voice.

“I remember seeing her near an elephant, and this elephant rolled over a bit and she had to get out of the way . . .” Vic Knibb, the vice-chairman of the veterans’ group the Burma Star Association, was one of the thousands of British soldiers serving in the Far East during the Second World War who came across Vera Lynn in the jungle, singing from the back of a Jeep, accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Speaking in Radio 2’s celebration of the singer’s 100th birthday, Vera Lynn: the Sweetheart of the United Kingdom (Sunday 19 March, 8pm), Knibb and others recalled what it meant to them that Lynn travelled so far to perform for the so-called Forgotten Army in Burma. Unlike other entertainers, who stayed in Europe or visited only military hospitals in the UK, she deliberately went where few others did – where she felt she was needed by “the boys”.

The programme, which featured a rare interview with Lynn herself, was dominated by clips of her recordings from the Thirties and Forties. We heard frequent extracts from “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “We’ll Meet Again” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. The contrast between these two voices, separated by more than six decades, was the most arresting thing this otherwise pedestrian documentary had to offer. The now gravelly-voiced centenarian sang, in her youth, with a smooth, effortless-sounding tone and crystal-clear diction. But how did the cockney daughter of a plumber from East Ham end up singing with received pronunciation?

The answer, as ever in Britain, is class. Lynn had no formal musical training, and as she had been performing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven, she was considered closer to a musical-hall crooner than a “proper” singer. But with her small vocal range and flawless self-taught technique, she chose her own songs to suit her voice. The BBC, for which she made her hugely popular radio show Sincerely Yours, requested that she take elocution lessons to “posh her accent up” and even at one point took her show off air for 18 months. “Every­body’s Sweetheart” wasn’t immune from snobbishness, it seems. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution