Return of the Undercover Squad

Over the last 48 hours one story has dominated the news headlines in the UK – the departure of England football manager Sam Allardyce after just one match and 67 days in charge. This sensational series of events came following a series of revelations exposed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper, whose undercover journalists – posing as businessmen – filmed Allardyce making comments that brought the game into disrepute.

A salary of £3m per year was seemingly not enough for the 61-year-old, who was shown discussing the possibility of receiving £400,000 for representing the fictitious company that the journalists claimed to represent. Even worse, he openly claimed that it was easy to get around Football Association (FA) rules regarding player transfers, and made distasteful remarks about his predecessor Roy Hodgson and other senior figures within the English football setup.

Such comments were not in keeping with the moral and ethical code of the FA, who after all, were his employers. Their leading public face discussing that it was possible to flout rules that they uphold was what alone made his future as boss untenable, so he became England’s shortest reigning permanent manager, and his dream job was in tatters.

In spite of the remarks, there was inevitably a school of thought which felt that the undercover reporting was unethical, and full of malicious intent. Going undercover and employing secret filming are techniques which are now looked upon with suspicion, having gained something of a reputation for being sleazy or shady. I have to admit it was a little reminiscent of similar exposés by the defunct News of the World.

I am also dubious about such practices, the likes of which seemed to be becoming phased out, especially since the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics. However, the Daily Telegraph‘s work has been met with acclaim by their industry colleagues, among whom there was undoubtedly some envious glances with regards to a rival publication pulling off such a coup and bringing about the downfall of the England manager.

While I do have reservations about how the Daily Telegraph carried out their operation, there can be no excuses for Allardyce. His actions were grossly immoral and extremely foolish, and to even agree to meeting the so-called businessmen was a catastrophic error of judgment.

When interviewed yesterday by a crowd of reporters who gathered outside his home, Allardyce ruefully and wryly remarked that ‘entrapment has won’, while admitting his mistakes. Still, his behaviour and remarks were inexcusable and not befitting of his role.

And the revelations have only just begun. The Telegraph are beginning a 10-month campaign of stories surrounding corruption in English football. Allardyce may prove to be the highest profile casualty, but a number of other figures within the game may also be made to suffer the consequences in the not too distant future.

Victims of the Vote

A few days ago a friend of mine witnessed an angry confrontation between two men. One of them was foreign, and for that reason alone the other felt that he had every right to hurl verbal abuse and use language which clearly suggested that he felt he was superior in his environment solely because ‘This Is England’.

Fortunately the incident, which was a dispute over parking, didn’t lead to any physical violence, but it was one that added to the growing spate of attacks on the non-British population of the United Kingdom which have taken place over the past three months in the aftermath of the referendum that saw the people vote to leave the European Union.

The outcome of that vote appears to led a hateful minority to feel that they have a right to victimise immigrants in the most sickening ways possible. There have been murders, violent assaults, attacks on pregnant women and racist abuse among other things; the rise in such incidents only going to show that a section of British society feels that foreign residents have no business living in their country and are taking it upon themselves to harass them by any means possible.

Members of certain communities now live with the fear that they could be targeted in the near future. Ill feeling towards them hasn’t exactly been helped by the ongoing continuation of the migrant crisis and the growth of illegal people smuggling, but that is no excuse.

Immigration has been rife in the UK for over half a century, but in more recent times the numbers have increased, largely for the good of the country. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) are partly responsible for fuelling resentment because of some of their deplorable propaganda campaigns, intended to scaremonger British citizens into believing that remaining in the EU would only serve to allow a greater influx of people from entering the country.

Indeed, scaremongering played a considerable part in the referendum campaign, on both sides of the debate. Along with the future of the economy, immigration was inevitably the subject which received the most coverage during a bruising few months which saw false claims bandied about left, right and centre, and numerous reminders from the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson that voting to leave would mean that the UK would be able to control its borders.

The vote to leave the EU has had wide-reaching effects. How would it affect universities with regards to international student admissions? Would non-British people living off benefits suddenly become eligible for deportation? As for people who intend to move to the UK in the future, would they be forced to prove their credentials, in other words convince the authorities that they would make a worthy contribution to British society?

Three months on, there are still too many grey areas, but returning to the central theme of this piece, the scale of abuse that non-British people are currently suffering is just frightening. It makes myself and millions of others questioning whether our country is the fair, equal and harmonious society that it claims to be, while those from a foreign background are increasingly made to feel like outsiders.

It is very uncomfortable to see sections of society subjected to such horrific treatment by a despicable and discriminatory minority of people who are using the vote to leave the EU as a supposed excuse. Voting to leave was, in my opinion, a giant mistake, but the outpouring of abuse towards the non-British people is arguably the most critical consequence.

An Audience with David Nicholls

There are few more prominent authors and screenwriters in Britain today than Dr David Nicholls, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity of seeing him discuss his work and inspirations at an event at the University of Bristol, where he graduated in 1988.

In a bright and atmospheric lecture theatre, Dr Nicholls provided an extremely fascinating insight into what it’s like to collaborate with film directors and actors, and how to adapt a novel for television or the big screen. Most recently the screenwriter for the 2014 film adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd, he told of how lead actress Carey Mulligan had a say in Bathsheba’s dialogue and manner of speaking.

Dr Nicholls guided us through his favourite film sequences and his directorial influences, continually emphasising that the art of converting material from script to screen is a complex one where so many different things have to be taken into consideration, including cost, location filming, timing, and whether a particular scene adds value to the motion picture.

Among the directors whose films we were treated to excerpts from were Preston Sturges (who Dr Nicholls felt was unheralded given his impressive body of work), Billy Wilder (we were shown a scene from The Apartment) and Wes Anderson, who was noted for his comedic and unconventional elements during the opening sequence of Rushmore.

Elsewhere, Dr Nicholls gave frequent indications that he was at something of a crossroads in his screenwriting career. He stated his desire not to do another adaptation for the foreseeable future, instead setting his sights on creating an original screenplay, although a new novel appears to be the first item on the horizon.

His existing literary works have been an unqualified success, having become an author fairly late after ending his career as an actor. Starter for Ten told the story of a University of Bristol student’s life changing after appearing on University Challenge, a tale that was made into a film in 2006.

Even more successful was One Day, which was told in the dual points of view of two young adults over a 20-year period, a unique and heartwarming romantic comedy. Nicholls adapted the book into a film which was released in 2010, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

There is also The Understudy and Us, the second of which is very much one of favourites of many library goers in the UK. It is soon to be adapted into a television series; further recognition of Nicholls’ current popularity and status.

Dr Nicholls was especially informative when it came to explaining the difference in his approach when writing a novel and creating a screenplay. Freely admitting that dialogue was his strong suit rather than descriptive language, he said that writing and developing a film was more rewarding due to the many different processes involved in bringing his words to the screen, and then seeing the finished product.

Just watching and hearing him speak from a few rows back in the theatre, you could sense that his mind was always working, always ticking. Endlessly creative and observant, he displayed all the mannerisms you would associate with a noted author, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak so insightfuly and relay his knowledge to a group of onlooking admirers.

My Blogging Dilemma

Over the past few weeks and months I have learnt some very valuable lessons. I initially took a break from this blog in May to focus on a busy period fulfilling my other online commitments, but once that was all over I succumbed to a hangover effect, as well as nagging doubts over whether I was able to continue to provide strong and original content.

As someone who blogs, I naturally want my material to attract as large an audience as possible. Although there is nothing wrong with the existing content on this site, I felt that I wasn’t hitting the right notes in some areas, so in recent times I have attempted to re-brand myself with very little success.

If anybody had come across a WordPress site by the name of Everyday Literature, I was the man behind it. I felt I could create a new guise, a platform on which to showcase all forms of literature, even those well beyond my interest and level of knowledge.

Despite some interesting early posts that gained positive feedback, it was clear from an early stage that it was never going to work. I clearly didn’t know enough about what I was writing about. Almost every post took an age to write because of the amount of research I was doing to make my analysis seem moderately credible, and it was eating away precious time I could have spent doing something much more worthwhile.

Everyday Literature was a brainchild which unfortunately fell flat on its face, even after I tried to maintain its legacy by setting up a Twitter account with the same name. I simply don’t have the time to update it on a regular enough basis, certainly not in a way that lives up to the requirements I had in mind when creating it. The moral of this particular story is not to set oneself unrealistic targets, and stick to what you know.

I had lost confidence in this site due to its very rigid concept, and a bout of writer’s cramp along with a loss of inspiration hasn’t helped matters. But in the last couple of days I’ve come to realise that this site represents my best way of salvaging something from WordPress, which is a tool I don’t want to leave behind. Lots of you have read my posts and enjoyed them, so it would be sad for all parties if I turned my back on you.

In order to return to Stephen Writes, I have had to make some changes. I would like to think that many of my future musings will be about books, but I will also use it as a place where I can cover a wide range of topics. I now have a new lease of life, so it is time that I go ahead and make the most of it.