The Lockdown Specials

One of the more interesting phenomena to emerge since the start of the pandemic has been the proliferation of makeshift online productions by those who previously would have been on mainstream television. The gap between amateur and professional has been noticeable diminished as a result of the virus, as actors and presenters have been deprived of their studious, props and make-up artists.

Only this year did I discover the radio sitcom Cabin Pressure. In March the writer John Finnemore launched the online video shorts entitled Cabin Fever. In April David Walliams and Matt Lucas performed a Little Britain compilation with improvised costumes. This was warmly received despite the main show having ended thirteen years ago and despite an ongoing controversy about some of its content. On the same night Dawn French released a “Parish Update” based on The Vicar of Dibley.

Especially notable about these online substitutes is the extent to which their creators are open to public contributions for ideas. Earlier examples included Jimmy Carr’s Little Tiny Quiz of the Lockdown. After a while he began asking viewers to suggest questions. I sent in a whole slideshow’s worth, but got no acknowledgement. The latest one – actually three months ago but I only just found it – was on the Sid City channel, a fan channel for actor Alexander Siddig. He played Lt. Dr. Julian Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from 1993 to 1999. Although the series ended twenty-one years ago the fanbase goes strong. Fans writing their own stories about characters from their favoured franchise is hardly uncommon, but convincing the cast themselves to perform it is vanishingly rare. The circumstances obviously prohibit the cast from physically interacting, so the stories are formatted as futuristic epistolary novels in which the characters interact through video link. The premise of Alone Together is very topical, of course, being that Cardassia has been closed off due to the spread of a disease – though this one attacks its victims’ thought processes rather than their respiration. A later story, Curse from the Prophets, is even more on-point in its commentary about immigration.

It will be interesting to see which franchise is next to have this treatment – perhaps The Thick of It, as virtual conferences are now so dominant in real-life politics, although Iannucci has said that his satire is redundant now, and how many of the main cast in 2012 would have survived to 2020 is far from certain.

A Princely Gift

I suppose there are worse things he could be wearing.

A few days ago I discovered the YouTube channel Documentary Base, whose content is what you’d expect. What particularly caught my interest was the series Crown and Country. The Prince Edward writes and presents a historical tour of England’s royal landmarks, one of many documentaries put out by his ill-fated Ardent Productions. This programme is about the same age as I, and now so obscure that its IMDB page looks to be mostly guesswork.

As far as I can decipher there were three series (in the years 1996, 1998 and 2000 – the former typed in the credits as such while the latter two are rendered as MCMXCVIII and MM). The YouTube playlist does not have them in broadcast order – and I think it may even mislabel a few of them, which makes it a little confusing. Series 1 and 2 are differentiated by swapping some of the clips in the opening title sequence montage. Series 3 switches from 4:3 to 16:9, and the title sequence is crudely cropped. The first two series credit the presenter as “Edward Windsor”, the third as “Edward Wessex”.

Technical details aside, the programme is pervaded by an otherworldly quaintness. As with so many films of this type it seems to be designed for international syndication rather than domestic broadcast, and while many specific events and locations are discussed the production itself is curiously timeless. It bulges with luxuriant panning shots of rolling countryside, weathered stone and ornately carved wood panels. The overall tone puts me in mind of Mitchell & Webb’s Sunday afternoon relaxation DVD. There are other curiosities, too, such as the title music which occasionally sounds like the middle eight of the Doctor Who theme.

The parts most interesting to me, as a blogger on heraldry, were the visits to the College of Arms and St George’s Chapel, neither of which get as much screen time as I would like.

In more recent news, the Prince of Wales has launched RE:TV, a channel (or platform, it’s not entirely clear) centered around his environmental projects. I also found this virtual interior tour of Buckingham Palace by interior design blogger Ashley Hicks.

Scrapped

There are two ways of doing things – the Great Wikipedian Way or the wrong way.

On Thursday I rolled past 12,000 edits to the English Wikipedia, allowing me to upgrade to the rank of Veteran Editor II or Grand Tutnum. This feat, especially during the last few months, was helped by the appointment of the new life peers: Their pages all needed updating to reflect their new identities, and even in some cases moving to new names as well as creating redirects and expanding various lists. I also embarked on a project to add succession boxes to all existing life peers – well, the males at least – showing their place in the order of precedence. So far the contributions I have described still stand, and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Others are not so lucky.

Early in 2018 I came looked across the numerous articles relating to The Railway Series and its television adaptation Thomas & Friends. In particular I noticed that the images used to illustrate character pages, especially the secondary characters, had been uploaded about a decade ago and were of rather poor quality – low resolution and harshly cropped. I set about replacing them with higher-clarity screenshots from videos I found online. I did this for Annie & Clarabel (both in one picture), Bertie, Diesel, Duck, Harold, Oliver, Peter Sam, Rheneas, Rusty, Salty, Sir Handel, Sir Topham Hatt, Terence and Trevor. Now, thirteen of those fourteen are gone.

This summer I noticed a string of alerts on my Talk page saying that my images were no longer being used in any articles and so would soon be deleted (because, as screenshots of a copyrighted TV series, they could only be uploaded under fair use, not Creative Commons). My first thought was that a different editor had uploaded images of their own to displace mine, or even that they had meanly decided any illustration would be too extravagant. Instead I discovered that the articles themselves were being deleted. Editors more powerful than I have determined that these pages were mere fancruft, and therefore unworthy of inclusion. At the time of writing only the “Steam Team”, Donald & Douglas and The Fat Controller above the waterline, with enough citations from outside the franchise itself to keep them on – though even these often sport multiple error boxes and tags for improvement. The secondary characters have been relegated to brief snippets in list articles. These lists themselves are being eyed up for deletion (in the words of one editor ” Combining two or more bad articles still produces a bad article that needs to be deleted in the end.“), so they may end up disappearing altogether. It should be noted that articles about the series itself outside of the fourth wall – whether in print or on television – are not threatened, rather it is the diegetic detail that tends to be in the crosshairs.

Some series fare better than others at this – the Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Star Trek and Star Wars franchises among others have hundreds upon hundreds of pages about characters, locations and species which do not seem to be in any immediate danger of purging. Tolkien’s Legendarium, of course, has been subject to plenty of discussion by formal academic publications and other secondary sources to solidify its presence. These franchises (along with many other detailed specific topics) also have their own independent wikis (often at fandom.com, formerly wikia.com) which can be tailored to focus on them individually and not limited by conformity to the standards of the vast Wikipedia project. In the case of Awdrey’s work, the community is rather small and has been barely active for a long time. The majority of the dedicated article-builders decided it was a more productive strategy to give up the main line and plough all of their efforts into the branch.

This is not the only area where such attitudes are encountered. Moving closer to my usual areas of interest, Wikipedia has a large number articles about royal pretenders – i.e. members of deposed dynasties. A few years ago the majority of these articles had the same formatting and templates as did those of still-enthroned royals, and even described subjects by the titles and styles they would enjoy under their respective monarchies. The talk pages of these articles often sported angry outbursts by those who deemed the prince-pretenders non-notable, or at least insisted that their “real” names should be used instead of their traditional titles (thought that itself would be a matter of some difficulty, as members of these families often have presences in multiple countries, and different countries afford differing levels of recognition to these people’s titles, such that they have different legal identities depending on location). Recently I have noticed that several of these articles have undergone significant revisions to decrease the level of perceived fluff around their styles and honours.

Sometimes this has affected things that I have personally created. Two years ago I made a navbox for the husbands of British suo jure princesses, seeing as we already had ones for the princesses themselves, the princes, and their wives (and equivalents for other countries of course). The template was swiftly deleted. I also spent a great deal of time putting together a navbox for all of Britain’s then-living life peers, in the style of those on the pages of their hereditary counterparts. That too was canned almost immediately.

I will not go into the wider issue of inclusionism and deletionism. My intention here is simply to highlight how easy it is for a person – or even many people – to dedicate a great deal of time and effort to a cause which is ultimately defeated, and its fruits at a whim obliterated, such that all their toil has been for nothing. This is a fact of life that long predates Wikipedia, and will likely never be escaped.

 

On Peers’ Websites (or Lack Thereof)

The Right Honourable The Lord Walney (formerly Mr John Woodcock)

Members of the House of Commons generally have a personal website where constituents can contact them and get an overview of their representative’s work. These websites are variable in quality and effort. If you look through a large number of them in a short time, you’ll notice that a lot of them are practically identical, having presumably been created en masse from the same template (though different templates are favoured by different parties).

Members of the House of Lords generally lack any websites at all. There are some who were famous for other things prior to their ennoblement and who have websites about those (Dobbs for his novels, Lloyd-Webber for his operas) but few have sites that are specifically about their roles as peers.

Particularly interesting is that a large proportion (too large, by many reckonings) of the upper house’s membership comes from recent emeriti of the lower. Quite a lot of these ex-MPs have at some point used personal websites for that role, but these are nearly always abandoned once their owners move upstairs, sitting stagnant for months and then disappearing altogether when the domain registrations lapse (they might still be around having reverted to their subdomains, but I can’t find them). My best guess at the reason for this phenomenon is that MPs’ personal websites are maintained by constituency staff rather than the politicians themselves, and thus are not sustainable once those staff are no longer in service – or the peers just think that nobody will be interested in reading them.

Here is a summary of the personal websites of those ex-MPs whose life peerages have already been gazetted this year, omitting those who don’t appear to have had a website in the first place.

2020 Special Honours

2019 Dissolution Honours

2020 Political Honours

New Ap-peer-ances

The Right Honourable The Lord Vaizey of Didcot PC

Today the House of Commons resumes sitting after the summer recess. Tomorrow the Lords will follow. A lot of new members will be joining shortly.

On the ultimate day of July the belated Dissolution Honours list for last year’s general election was finally published. Confusingly, a separate Political Honours list was published on the same day. The two lists between them announced thirty-six new life peers. On top of that baronies were also promised to the outgoing Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and the incoming National Security Adviser David Frost.

It saddened many to see the size of the upper house increase so suddenly after a few years of carefully-managed reduction, though this year’s intake is noticeably smaller than the forty-five appointed in the dissolution honours for 2015, or the fifty-six appointed in those of 2010.

While knights, dames, and recipients of lesser awards know their new honorifics immediately, a new peer or peeress must negotiate with the Garter King of Arms before their precise title can be decided. Even without COVID-19 disrupting business, there can often be a substantial delay between the publication of the honours list and the sealing of the letters patent. This can be a nuisance for Wikipedians, as the biographies of those promised peerages must be held in awkward purgatory until their ennoblement actually arrives, while well-meaning but ill-informed editors try to describe them as already being members of the house, or even make guesses at what their titles should be.

To make matters worse still, the London Gazette, which is normally taken as the gold standard of official record, frequently lags days or even weeks behind Parliament’s own website, which tends to include new peers among the Lords’ membership immediately, though we must still wait for the former in order to know their territorial designations.

The online parliamentary calendar suggests that introductions of these new peers will not begin until next week. The majority of the new members are still described by plain name rather than title, indicating that their elevation has not yet occurred.

  • 07th Sep – The Lord Bishop of Manchester (David Walker)
  • 08th Sep – Lord Frost & Lord Herbert of South Downs
  • 10th Sep – Lord Vaizey of Didcot & James Wharton
  • 14th Sep – Ian Austin & Dame Helena Morrissey
  • 15th Sep – Kathryn Clark & John Woodcock
  • 17th Sep – Kenneth Clarke & Gisela Stuart
  • 28th Sep – Lorraine Fullbrook & Aamer Sarfraz
  • 29th Sep – Sir Patrick McLoughlin & Susan Hayman

It seems likely that the inductions will spread well into October, though the calendar does not yet go that far. It will be interesting to see if these ceremonies are done in the same no-frills manner as those of Grimstone and Greenhalgh earlier this year and, if so, how long it will be before the normal accompaniments return.

EXTERNAL LINKS

  • 30th Aug – Professor Norton’s blog on the new appointments.
  • 29th Jul – Constitution Committee discusses the functioning of Parliament during the pandemic and the implications of adding new peers.
  • 2005 – An overview of the induction process.
  • 1963 – A short account of Ernest Simon’s choice of title.

UPDATE (8th September)

Introductions of the new peers to the upper house have begun. The Lord Frost and the Lord Herbert of South Downs took their seats today. Unfortunately those in charge of the video stream neglected to enable sound until the former’s ceremony was nearly over. More curiosities emerge here:

  1. Herbert wore the scarlet robe in the traditional manner whereas Frost went without.
  2. The letters patent used to be large sheets of what might be vellum, whereas now they are using ordinary A4 printouts (Herbert’s even had a post-it note stuck to it!). Perhaps the full-size versions are being kept away from potential contamination?
  3. Hansard is again crediting supporters for the new peers, even though they are still not seen taking part in the procession. Shinkwin, at least, can be spotted watching from the steps of the throne. This would seem equivalent to being an honorary pallbearer at a funeral.

UPDATE (14th September)

Today The Lord Austin of Dudley and the Baroness Morrissey were introduced. Supporters are physically participating again, though the choreography is rather different now.

UPDATE (29th September)

The Lord McLoughlin was introduced between the Lord Cormack and the Lord Randall of Uxbridge, all three robed. McLoughlin paused before exiting the chamber to allow Randall to get ahead of him – though I think in previous practice it was the senior supporter who walked in front at this stage rather than the junior. The Baroness Hayman of Ullock was then introduced in a robe but her supporters (the Baronesses Jones of Whitchurch and Smith of Basildon) forewent them. Hayman walked ahead of both supporters to exit the chamber and did not even give the deputy speaker a cursory nod along the way.

UPDATE (5th October)

The Lords Moyland and Botham were introduced today. My fascination on this occasion was less with the introductions themselves and more with the technical difficulties which delayed them for several minutes – and delayed all the chamber’s other business for over an hour. I could hear just fine through ParliamentLive, but apparently the sound was failing through other channels. There was a lot of idle chatter among peers and the sitting was adjourned during pleasure several times – with Fowler stumbling through the vote each time. Most notably you can hear someone (maybe the reading clerk Simon Burton or the chief whip Lord Ashton of Hyde) saying “testing, testing, one, two three” many times, once even going over sixty.

UPDATE (9th November)

The Lords Stewart of Dirleton, another supernumerary, took his seat today. The footage didn’t cut in until Burton was already some way into the patent. Once Stewart had left the chamber proceedings were delayed while the clerk, another staff-member and a shadow minister fumbled around rearranging the clutter on the table and wiping it with sanitiser. Fowler remarked “No more cleaning?” when they appeared to have finished. To make matters worse, once Burton stood up to give the Lord Speaker the customary nod, a large black object (a cushion, presumably) could be seen to fall from his chair.

And On That Note

In something of a diversion from the topics normally covered on this blog, I have published online a series of amateur musical pieces that I made some years back using MuseScore, an open-source composition platform. They can be found here.

There is no particular theme to all of these, nor were they created for any particular purpose – save passing time. The most I have ever gotten out of them so far is as the backing track for my Homework Direct introductory video. Should they arouse any interest I might consider licensing them for fees, but that seems unlikely.

Lecture on London Livery

No Wikipedia editors… yet.

Today I attended a virtual lecture by The Heraldry Society – Arms of the City of London and its Livery Companies. The content was much as said on the tin. Obviously there wasn’t time to laboriously describe each company’s achievement in detail, but a broad overview was given of the city’s municipal and corporate heraldry with a few favourites picked out for closer inspection.

The meeting, as with so many these days, took place over Zoom. I found the arrangements less than satisfactory: We were emailed the link at 2pm, with the lecture itself running from 6pm to 7pm. Household and family distractions were hard to navigate. There was no function to pause or rewind, and the video was not recorded. The email told us:

Several persons have asked us if we are going to record the lecture. The answer to that is, we are sorry to report, a no. The Heraldry Society’s Council has discussed the implications of recording lectures at considerable length, evaluated all the pros and cons and taken an very well informed and conscious decision not to record lectures. This decision is unlikely to change as the topic has been thoroughly discussed and explored from all angles. The drawbacks outweigh the advantages at present.

That said, the Society has a plan to bring more content to the digital realm, so keep and eye open (and and ear tuned in) for news in the coming months.

Last month the society held a lecture on English Tudor Heraldic Glass in Philadelphia, which I missed completely due to these sub-optimal arrangements. Next month is one on Heraldry in the Battle of Barnett 1471 which I could well also end up missing depending on what circumstances prevail by then.

There were other problems – for the first couple of minutes there was no sound as the audio was not linked properly. Then someone drew a squiggle on the screen using the annotation function, which stayed there for nearly half of the lecture and was the subject of several digressions before the host figured out how to remove it. The chat section repeatedly flashed and popped up in an irritating manner.

The entire experience contrasts unfavourably with that provided by the Royal Armouries in their virtual lectures this summer. These were done on Microsoft Teams, a platform which proved far smoother and more versatile at least so far as concerned this format. As I have lamented before, heralds and heraldists are not prone to making their material easily available – presumably because they would then have no means of garnering funds – and so even in these times will go to lengths to keep access restricted by using conference calls and other semi-private environments instead of uploading the lecture to a video-sharing platform. Admittedly Lyon has made some moves this way in recent months but overall the picture in this regard is bleak.

Heraldry in Upstart Crow

Ben Elton’s BBC sitcom Upstart Crow, covering the life of William Shakespeare (David Mitchell), contains some interesting heraldic treasures. A subplot of the series involves the playwright’s attempt to elevate himself to the gentry with the acquisition of a grant of arms. Robert Greene (Mark Heap), Master of the Revels, seeks to deny him this, viewing the Shakespeares as of insufficiently high birth.

Success comes in the third season, Elizabeth I allegedly having been so impressed by Shakespeare’s latest play that she decreed “Only the son of a gentleman could have writ such wit!” and thus elevated the bard’s father accordingly.

There are other armorial treats, though also causes for confusion: At the theatre where Shakespeare and his troupe are seen rehearsing, there is a large cloth of the royal arms at the time – quarterly France & England – hanging in the background. There appear to be multiple versions of this prop used. On some occasions the arms are depicted in the correct tinctures, on others the field colours are swapped so that the fleur de lis are on gules and the lions on azure. There are other curiosities in that same set, for on either side are other shields which also get swapped out at various points. On the right, in seasons 1 and 2, is a shield resembling that of the Dauphin of France, though again with the background tinctures changed, while those appearing on the left are not those I can identify.

The Queen herself (Emma Thompson) appears at Hampton Court Palace in the 2017 special A Christmas Crow. Behind her is a large, colourful relief of the modern-day royal arms, showing quarterings for Scotland and Ireland but not for France, and featuring a unicorn argent as the sinister supporter. These elements would not be brought together until the union of the crowns, which of course occurred at Elizabeth’s death. The specific iteration shown in this episode, with the motto scroll floating in the air, would belong to the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI.

NOTABLE CLIPS

FURTHER READING

Pictures in Unexpected Places (Part 2)

Last year I made a post looking at some of the ways in which my free-licence photographs were being used online. Since then a couple more examples have turned up:

This article in The Boar uses my photograph of the laundry room at The Lawns Centre to head an article about the student union at Warwick changing their laundry contractor. Interestingly the image clearly shows signage with Hull branding on it. The article says “Card or credits will not be required to use their service, which will reportedly also handle potential machine breakdowns with quicker response times.“, which is of great interest to me, as I found the laundry facilities at The Lawns to be insufficient, overcomplicated, unreliable. After the first fortnight I opted to put my worn clothes into a travel bag and haul them to Rex Launderette just under a mile away.

The UK Human Rights Blog credited me for a photograph of Lord Sumption. I merely uploaded the screenshot to Wikimedia Commons, the video was actually produced by the Cambridge Law Faculty.

The Arms of the Universities

Almost a year ago I embarked on a draft Wikipedia page listing the armorial ensigns of Britain’s many higher education institutions. I spent about a month on it before moving onto other projects, returning only a few months later to keep up a token level of activity so that the draft wouldn’t be deleted. In March, having decided that I had done enough by myself, I left guidelines on the talk page for other contributors and then stood back. Three days ago, without much ceremony, I discovered that another editor had taken up the mantle and, after further enlarging the page’s content, launched it into mainspace.

Unlike those of humans, arms of institutions are not recorded in Burke’s and Debrett’s. Luckily for us, the great heraldic scholar Arthur Charles Fox-Davies recorded the arms of a great many universities (and other organisations) in The Book of Public Arms in 1915. Of course, a lot of new universities have come into being since then, and I do not know of any similar book – or at least none in the public domain – published in the present millennium. I did, however, find a smattering of more recent arms on Heraldry of the World, a private Wiki set up solely to record impersonal heraldry, although that site’s own sources are unfortunately not listed. Many establishments have details about their armorial achievements on their own websites, though the level of precision is far from consistent.

The ancient universities and their constituent colleges often assumed arms in a time before heraldry was regulated, and subsequently had them recorded during the Tudor-era visitations. Later institutions matriculated from the College of Arms and the Lyon Court in the usual way. One interesting phenomenon to note is that the older institutions are mostly restricted to a mere freestanding shield, whereas the newer ones sport crests and supporters. The proliferation of such ornaments into corporate heraldry is a relatively new phenomenon, with heralds consenting to granting them only after realising that institutions would otherwise assume them anyway. Paradoxically, this means that new universities who seek grants of arms in order to approach the prestige of old ones may actually be sabotaging their own objectives by displaying them.

There was some difficulty in arranging categories, as not all universities have neccessarily always been universities – some started off as constituent colleges of others but later broke away, others evolved from more specific bodies such as teacher training colleges or medical schools. Arms could be matriculated at any stage, and possibly but not definitely carried forward through reconstitutions. Then there was the issue of how to list schools in Ireland which were part of the United Kingdom when their armorial grants were first issued.

My next list page, which I began on 10th March, is for the arms of who have held the office of Lord High Chancellors of Great Britain. Hopefully it won’t take a whole year to get that one approved.