Tuesday, 20 January 2015

We are, astronomical, fans of alcohol: World War One and the deadly foe of drink

‘You are, astronomical, fans of alcohol’ 
(British Sea Power: Waving Flags)

1916 poster (courtesy IWM). Campaigns such as this helped reduce
alcohol consumption during World War One

Alcohol is deeply embedded in British culture and there have been numerous state, and other, responses to its control and regulation. However, as Philip Kolvin has noted in a key text in licensing law, ‘over the last half millennium, the political response to our national trait has been ever changing and contradictory’. Currently the provision of alcohol is largely governed by the Licensing Act 2003, but during World War One alcohol became a hot political topic. In particular, a key Government concern was that the war effort might be hampered by the abuse of alcohol. Shortly before War broke out the Licensing Act 1908 had in fact sought to regulate alcohol consumption but was not without its critics and large scale protests.  David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been a key figure in support of the 1908 Act, saw drink as particular problem once the war commenced;

‘We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink; and as far as I can see, the greatest of these deadly foes is drink’ David Lloyd George quoted in Beer, The Story of the Pint
Lloyd George had actually started a campaign for people to take the pledge during the War, something that even King George V acceded to, stating that no alcohol would be consumed in the Royal household until the war was over.  Voluntary measures such as this were deemed to be insufficient however and a series of regulatory measures were enacted, these included the reduction in licensing hours and introduction of no-treating orders. The Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restriction) Act 1914 received its royal assent at the end of August 1914. There had been many attempts at reducing drinking hours before 1914 but these really took root during World War One with the 1914 Act drastically curtailed drinking hours, allowing public houses to be open for a maximum of six hours per day and introducing a compulsory afternoon break in the areas of the country where it was operationalised. These restrictions largely persisted until passing of the Licensing Act 1988 first began the process of loosening these restrictions.

Another measure the Government introduced was the No Treating Order, introduced in October 1915. This meant that any drink ordered had to be paid for by the person to be supplied with the drink – effectively it was an ‘anti-round buying’ measure. The tradition of buying drinks for a group in rounds was a well established and popular one, although the Spectator felt this measure would ‘free hundreds of thousands of men from an expensive and senseless social tyranny’! The Government adopted other measures too, including the establishment of a central Liquor Control board with wide powers to regulate supply of liquor and trying to buy up a number of local breweries and constantly extending amounts of duty payable and attempting price control. These measures often were met with resentment, and sometimes satire as witnessed by Ernie Mayne the popular music hall performer, recording the song ‘Lloyd George’s Beer’, as can be heard here.

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of blogs about the effect of World War 1 on law and popular culture, following a previous blog on the Polytechnic, law, popular culture and WW1, and one on thankful villages. Future ones will include pieces on censorship, court martials, spiritualism and intellectual property amongst other things, and if any readers have any ideas or would like to write a guest post, please get in touch. With luck, we will collate these and draw upon them and later provide the basis for some future developments at the Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Law, poetry and popular culture - to instruct and delight

Some months ago I blogged about poetry - in particular how poetry could be used to help stroke victims and included some recollections about my dad, who suffered two strokes. In that blog I talked about the fantastic work that Mancunian wordsmith Mike Garry does in this area. I returned to some of Mike's other work in a later post for my other blog Tickets of Distinction, entitled 'Manic on the Streets of Manchester',  which included some mid 1990s photos of yours truly among tales of Anthony H Wilson, the Manic Street Preachers and The Hacienda. I had been discussing various ideas with Mike during 2014, and in  December 2014 we were delighted to announce that Mike had agreed to join our Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture as a Writer in Residence.

First and foremost we are really excited to have an artist of Mike's calibre agreeing to come and work with us - we think this is the first time a Law School in the UK has created a link of this type (although would be interested to hear about others), and are really looking forward to seeing how this develops. Initial plans include work with Creative Writing students, some work with the archives, and we hope to announce the first of some public events run out of the Law School soon, but we have lots of ideas as to how this might develop.

When we first mooted Mike joining the Centre we started to look at the history of poetry at the University of Westminster, and also the link between law and poetry. Gibbons wrote, uncontroversially, that law is inconceivable without language, and Rachel Cohen for our own Entertainment and Sports Law Journal wrote, in a piece about incomprehensibility in music contracts, that despite Gibbon's claim; '...legal language has long been criticised for its idiosyncratic ambiguity'. This is a fair point - as a law student on a left leaning persuasion I came to law seeing it as a form of bourgeois mystification so Cohen's point certainly resonated with me. Even today much of what lawyers do is based around the ambiguities of language and nuances of interpretation. I started to do a little digging around law and poetry. I was aware from my work on Law and Film of some interest in this from the Law and literature movement, and a quick search through back issues of the journal Law and Literature sees reference made to Ovid, Larkin and Shelley (Percy not Pete) among others. I was more interested, however, in the power of poetry outside of the law rather than the approaches that appeared to have been taken in Law and Literature. During my (at this stage admittedly fairly basic) research I found this really nice  piece by Frank Pommersheim, a US Scholar, on 'Poetry, Law, & Poetry: Some Notes Towards a Unified Theory'. There were a few things in here that I really liked. He talks about how 'Poetry and law are both reports on human experience; reports from different angles with different means'. He goes on to set the two up as a series of binary oppositions...

'poetry is your mother; law your father'

'poetry wounds; law kills'

'poetry is blood, law is water'

'One brings union, the other disunion'

Now these are provocative and contestable statements and ones that, perhaps, Mike's work with us will cast some light upon. More importantly than that however, I think Mike's work with us will help us appreciate the scope, and power, of words. In terms of the University of Westminster's poetry pedigree - its fair to say its impressive and Mike's addition to our ranks only adds to this. The ever dependable Anna McNally in the Archives found lots of details of the history of poetry at Westminster for me. Ezra Pound apparently gave a series of lectures at the Polytechnic between 1909 and 1910, and the Archives hold a number of prospectuses along with other related documents on this. Other notable poets with links to the University include David Gascoyne, Menghistu Lemma, George Barker and Clive Sansom. My personal favourite that Anna referred me to is Louise Bagley who, whilst not specifically a poet,  was appointed Head of the School of Elocution at the Polytechnic, as we then were, in 1913. Even the idea of elocution seems faintly anachronistic today, but Louise Bagley was apparently a pioneer in 'the difficult art of expression through the medium of the voice'. She had a brilliant idea for a  course of 24 lectures in 1917 entitled 'Poets and Poetry of Today', the fee for which was 8/6 for the whole course or 1s for a single lecture! I love this idea, and we are hoping Mike will do something similar in terms of poetry for the public as part of his role, although we would hope to make this free and open access.

Anyway, Louise Bagley appears to have been extraordinarily well thought of. As her obituary in the Polytechnic magazine in August 1926 noted; 'Let those who try to follow in her footsteps  see to it that her work does not die, but lives'. In some small way the arrival of Mike Garry, a poet who acknowledges and celebrates the power of the word, helps ensure that her work and ethos does not die, but is reflected in the activities of the University in the twenty first century, and we are excited about the journey ahead.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Law, Popular Culture and World War One

In my recent post on Thankful Villages I mentioned the relationship between the law, World War One and popular culture. In fact  the entry of the United Kingdom to World War One on 4 August 1914 presaged a number of legal responses. In particular, four days after the War began the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 received its Royal Assent. The original Act  was very short and was amended a number of times during the War, including twice before 1914 was out. Indeed, the first amendment came barely two weeks after its commencement with the Defence of the Realm Act (No 2) 1914  and a series of other legislative provisions followed in its wake.

The powers conferred were wide ranging, the poster below, to be displayed at train stations across the land, illustrates the breadth of coverage here. 
Source: National Archive

Powers afforded to the Government included taking possession of land, requiring the removal of persons and property from specified areas and various controlling measures, including increased stop and search powers that all seem consistent with a state being at war. Some more seemingly bizarre powers included the need for a permit to keep homing pigeons and the outlawing of whistling, although these two had their specific rationales as to how they aided the war effort.

In terms of the intersection of the law with popular culture, a marked effect can be seen during the War. I will post again about some of these specific issues, but they include concerns around alcohol and censorship, but we also see the impact on areas such as sport, spiritualism and even intellectual property too.  As I say I’ll blog about these in due course, perhaps with some guest blogs from members of the Law School who have an interest in these areas. We also hope to develop this in a number of ways via the activities of the Centre of Law Society and Popular Culture and details will appear of these here in due course.

Finally I mentioned previously about the role of the University of Westminster in terms of  World War One. In 1914 we were known as the Regent Street Polytechnic, and our involvement was multi faceted, playing important roles both on and off the battlefield. On the Western Front members of the Poly were fighting for King and Country as members of the Polytechnic’s own Territorial Force regiment. At home the Poly played a vital role in recruiting, training, accommodating and rehabilitating soldiers, and fundraising in an endeavour to help the war effort and the aftermath. More details can be found via the online exhibition The Polytechnic and World War One, written by staff in our excellent Archives, and  well worth a read. For my next post I will look at the legal regulation of alcohol in World War One, any any other suggestions are most welcome.