Morrissey versus NME in racism court battle

Former Smiths frontman attempts to sue ex-NME editor for libel.

Morrissey is attempting to sue Conor McNicholas, the NME's former editor and its publisher IPC Media for libel. A hearing was held at the High Court on Monday, which Morrissey did not attend. Today the senior libel judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, will annouce whether this claim for a trial has been accepted.

The case centres around an interview that Morrissey gave to the NME in November 2007, in which he referred to an "immigration explosion". He was also quoted as saying: "Although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British idenitity disappears."

In his written submission to the court, Morrissey said that the 2007 interview had attracted significant attention from the press and that "Question marks over my being a racist have never since receded". The former lead singer of the Smiths has always denied allegations of racism. Another controversial episode in the singer's career happened onstage in Finsbury Park in 1992, when he wrapped himself up in a Union jack, leading to accusations by the NME that he was "flirting with disaster" and racist imagery.

Morrissey first threatened to take legal action against the magazine soon after the interview was published in 2007. His lawyers set a deadline by which the publication had to apologise before legal action would begin, but the NME issued no such apology. Acting for the magazine, Catrin Evans alleged that the three year gap between Morrissey's first complaint and the recent hearing suggests that, "this is not a genuine bid for vindication ... [The claim] simply didn't figure at the forefront of his mind."

If Morrissey's claim is successful, the main evidence for the trial will be a full transcript of the 2007 interview and e-mail correspondence between Morrissey's manager and the NME.

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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