The dapper Don

A film about the photographer Don McCullin is in pre-production (which, I think, means sitting for hours in Patisserie Valerie in Soho downing countless lattes). It’s based on his autobiography, Unreasonable Behaviour, scripted by Gregory Burke – whose credits include the National Theatre of Scotland play Black Watch – and it’s to star Tom Hardy.

McCullin is most famous for his achingly painful black and white war photography, notably the images from Vietnam and the wounded (emotionally and physically) US soldiers and the devastation of the lives of the local people and their country. He’s been shot and badly wounded, imprisoned in Uganda, expelled from Vietnam and had a bounty on his head in Lebanon. Perhaps unsurprisingly he’s a man who takes few prisoners. He is, he tells my old chum Peter Ross, a “cantankerous sod” which clearly didn’t help him in his battle with Andrew Neil when the Paisley Tory boy took over editorship of the Sunday Times and sidelined him.

I’ve met McCullin a couple of times and I’m not ashamed to say he’s a hero of mine. His Vietnam pictures were hugely important in turning public perception against that war. Few people now remember Biafra, the tiny African nation that split from Nigeria in 1967, to be retaken three years later, and at the time few people cared about the mass starvation occurring until McCullin’s shots brought it home and forced governments to act – but then only after he had printed enlarged images of the victims and fly-posted them round London.

Unreasonable Behaviour is a devastatingly frank book. In my edition it ends, heartbreakingly, on the day of his son Paul’s wedding. His estranged first wife of 22 years, Christine, is suffering from a brain tumour, so she is staying with McCullin prior to the ceremony. It’s a glorious warm and cloudless day and the saddest of McCullin’s life. Christine dies in his house and the chapter and the book ends with him leaving her there to see his son married, now bereft of his mother.

My former colleague Peter Ross (we are united in having worked under Andra Neil, if not in talent) has interviewed McCullin, peerlessly, in the current Royal Photographic Society Journal. Don is scathingly dismissive of the forthcoming biopic. “I don’t give a damn about it,” he says. “It’s not going to change my life. I don’t really want to be depicted in any way by somebody else. I’m my own man … Tom Hardy doesn’t look like me. He’s very muscular and shorter than me. And he grunts a lot. I don’t grunt.”


A Record fine

As a young hack I wrote a lurid crime story which I believed would win awards. It went to the lawyer who took me aside. “Far be it for me to interfere with your promotion prospects,” he said, “but it the editor publishes this he will surely go to jail.” The piece would have been in contempt of court because there were live criminal proceedings. So it is with sympathy that I report the Daily Record has just been fined what must be a record sum (pun intended), £80,000, for two breaches over articles relating to separate criminal proceedings.

The first one named an individual, referred to as “A”, calling him a “gang boss” and “cocaine kingpin”, while the second, or “B”, was also named, and included photographs of him being arrested complete with Facebook quotes describing him as “beastie scum”.

Individual A had been arrested in January 2017 in connection with firearms offences and was also said to be connected to serious organised crime and a major player. B was arrested four months later with the paper picturing his arrest with the headline "Got Him". He was charged with attempting to abduct two nine-year-old girls and other offences while subject to a sexual prevention order. The Record had taken legal advice on both articles.

Contempt law in Scotland is applied much more rigorously, and with considerably less wiggle room, than south of the border, and across the Pond there doesn’t seem to be one. People are “tried” in the US media every day, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the freedom of the press allowing it – whereas we don’t even have a constitution, never mind the same untrammelled freedom.

In both of these cases you might have thought that there was a public interest defence in running the pieces – which were true – and there would certainly have been intense debate inside Disnaeland about the wisdom of going ahead. That didn’t wash with the appeal court.

The editor of the Daily Record (and Sunday Mail) is now my old pal David Dick, formerly of this organ, a fearsome operator and possibly the only Aberdeen and AC:DC fan to edit a national title. He has much first-hand experience of the bench, he sat on it often enough at Inverurie Locos.

Tuned out

They don’t write them like that anymore. Fortunately. Pop music has been PC’d. Sexism, racism, under-age sex, they were staples of song but that’s all gone – although not in Rap, where it’s a sine qua non.

Could the Cure now sing about Killing An Arab with the hook, “Staring down the barrel at an Arab on the ground, I can see his mouth open but I hear no sound. I’m alive, I’m dead, I’m the stranger killing an Arab”? Only if heading a BNP gig.

Is Mick Jagger shamed by writing this lyric in Stray Cat Blues? “There’ll be a feast if you just come upstairs, but it’s no hanging matter, it’s no capital crime. I can see that you’re 15 years old, no I don’t want your ID.”

Carole King – who wrote the song with her then husband Gerry Goffin – has disavowed The Crystals hit, He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss). “He hit me and it felt like a kiss, he hit me but it didn’t hurt me, he hit me and I knew he loved me. If he didn’t care for me, I could have never made him mad, but he hit me and I was glad.” It was apparently inspired by their babysitter Little Eva (who sang Locomotion) after she told the couple that the abuse showed her boyfriend loved her. It has since been covered by the likes of Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse and Lana Del Ray, shame on them.

This train of thought was sparked by wandering into a time warp, a pub’s retro night, all loon pants and kaftans, and hearing Blue Mink’s 1969 hit, Melting Point. It was meant to be an ode to inter-racial mingling but judging by the lyrics (I won’t repeat them here) it rather defeated its purpose. Still got on Top of the Pops though.