Competition: Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Win two weekend passes to festival sponsored by the New Statesman.

The New Statesman is proud media sponsor of the third Stoke Newington Literary Festival. It’s year three of this eclectic, amusing, inspiring and sometimes audacious festival and we are offering readers the opportunity to enter a competition to win weekend passes for the festival and take a guest. 

To enter – simply tell us the name of the well known BBC News anchorman who is participating in the festival this year.  The first two correct entries drawn will win two weekend passes each – email your entries to comp@newstatesman.co.uk and write Stoke Newington Literary Festival in the subject line. The draw will take place on 25 May and winners will be informed by email.

The Festival runs over the first part of the Jubilee weekend and starts on Friday 1 June with a Gala evening including Josie Long, Robin Ince and Pauline Black.

On Saturday the events continue when Iain Sinclair, China Miéville, Laura Oldfield Ford and Ken Worpole debate the Olympics legacy and George Alagiah, Giles Oldroyd (of the John Innes Research Centre) and Hattie Ellis discuss Global vs Local Food, there are many more literary, film and music and comedy events and the headline event for Saturday evening is John Cooper Clarke with Simon Day.

On Sunday - Padraig Reidy (Index on Censorship) has put together a media reform panel including: Nick Cohen, Brian Cathcart, Dan Hind and Suzanne Moore;  there is also the People's History of London event with John Rees and Lindsey German and many more events for adults and children.

For a full programme visit: Stokenewingtonliteraryfestival.com

Tickets are available through: ticketweb.co.uk

"From Gothic horror stories to true Victorian crime, reggae to Dr Seuss, the best new poetry to the new hopefuls of English fiction, this festival is more low-key but in many ways a more enjoyable version of its blockbusting cousins. Long may it continue." New Statesman

"Just like Hay-on-Wye. But in Hackney" Time Out

"The coolest literary festival of the summer" Authonomy

Stoke Newington
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Is Danny Baker a “bona fide genius”? Not in his new show

The clichéd decade: Cradle to Grave and Danny and the Human Zoo reviewed.

I’m not qualified to rule on whether or not Danny Baker is, as the newspapers insist, a “bona fide genius”; I gave up listening to the ever more blokeish BBC Radio 5 Live a while ago, and I’m too young to remember the supposedly fantastic pieces he delivered to the NME back in the day (I read that they were even more amazing than those of Tony Parsons, which is saying something, isn’t it?). But I can tell you this: his new autobiographical comedy series, Cradle to Grave (Thursdays, BBC2, 9pm), displays no evidence at all of his talents, brilliant or otherwise. Anecdotes that just peter out. Jokes that fail to hit home. Misplaced nostalgia. Honestly, what’s the point? If you want 1974 – and quite a lot of us seem to, if the performance of Jeremy Corbyn is anything to judge by – you’d be better off treating yourself to a box set of the eternally satisfying Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?.

The series, co-written with Jeff Pope, is based on Baker’s memoir Going to Sea in a Sieve. It’s 1974, and Danny (Laurie Kynaston) is a randy teenager who still lives at home in good old Bermondsey with his ducking and diving docker dad, Fred, aka Spud (Peter Kay), his kindly mum, Bet (Lucy Speed), and his older sister, Sharon (Alice Sykes). A voice-over tells us, in effect, to forget all about the nasty old three-day week and to consider instead the warmth of lovely south-east London. How decent its people are, how eager to try out newfangled consumer goods such as the continental quilts Spud has pilfered and which now fill the hall of his tiny house like clouds. (Correct: he’s basically Del Boy, minus the Robin Reliant, the cocktail bar and, fatally, the workmanlike jokes.)

The denizens of Bermondsey are not, you understand, quite ready for the new world. In this part of London, bomb sites remain, merrily sprouting buddleia and pink willow herb; men are men and women are women. Spud is horrified to discover that his daughter’s new boyfriend wears – wait for it – white plimsolls, though not quite so horrified as Danny is to find a stranger’s ­penis flapping exuberantly against his cheek when he goes up west to see Hair (needless to say, our Danny was in search of naked girls, not sweaty blokes). If you find this kind of thing funny and (I can hardly bear to write the words) “heart-warming”, then you have seven weeks of bliss ahead. Who knows? Perhaps the characters will go on to debate the virtues of the various flavours of Old English Spangles. But I can’t believe that many people will be so easily pleased. Those who are old enough to remember the Seventies will know that the best of the decade’s own comedy was ten times more sophisticated than this, and those who aren’t – those who have never had anything other than a duvet on their bed, and can locate a naked female or even a flapping male member with just one tap of their mobile – will simply watch something altogether more grown-up on Netflix.

Kascion Franklin (centre) on BBC1. Photo: BBC/RED

Unfathomable BBC scheduling (is it having some kind of John Whittingdale-induced nervous breakdown?) treated us to two doses of 1974 as the summer limped to an end. The second loving spoonful came in the form of Danny and the Human Zoo (31 August, BBC1, 9pm), an almost-biopic drama in which Lenny Henry told the story of his painful start in comedy.

My TV critic colleagues have all been most respectful but, lovely as Kascion Franklin’s performance in the lead role was, I couldn’t altogether get with the show. Unlike Baker, Henry certainly wiped the Vaseline from the lens: his version of the Seventies was clear-eyed, particularly in the matter of racism. But his tendency as a writer is to tell rather than show, which becomes wearying, and the narrative he offered us – success on the New Faces talent show, followed by the self-loathing that came of joining the Black and White Minstrels – wasn’t exactly unfamiliar. An unscrupulous manager with bad hair; parents who think their son should get a “proper” job but are secretly oh-so-proud; Mud’s “Tiger Feet” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on the soundtrack: such TV clichés really should be illegal by now.

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 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses