Noel Halifax

The dark heart of West Germany

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Günter Grass, novelist, poet and human rights campaigner, died in April aged 87. He was called the conscience of Germany, or more accurately West Germany. But at the heart of both the writer and the state lay a dark secret that has haunted his reputation. He was born in 1927 in the “free” city of Danzig, a port between Germany and Poland, today Gdansk in Poland. Its free-ness was a state given after the First World War as a price paid by Germany for its defeat.

What a load of bankers

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Another month and another scandal with the banks — now centred on HSBC. After seven years of being told that “reforms” had been made, a “new start” acted on, “fundamental changes in the culture” made, new “super clean” managers with “openness and integrity” brought in…and we are back to the same old corrupt world of British banking.

Homophobia in the First World War

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The Black Book trial of 1918 exposed the extent of anti-gay feeling in a British society at war. And, writes Noel Halifax, it gave us Noel Pemberton Billing, the Nigel Farage of his day.

On 29 May 1918 a libel trial began which engrossed the nation and became the high point of the short but dramatic political career of Noel Pemberton Billing MP. Now a forgotten name in history, at the time he was the figurehead of a nasty far-right movement which had all the same features as groups in Germany that were to give birth to the Nazi party — ultra-patriotic, anti-Semitic and awash with conspiracy theories. What distinguished the British version from the German one was its obsessive homophobia.

Mr Turner

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Mike Leigh’s new film has Timothy Spall as artist William Turner. It recreates the artist’s life and early 19th century England in meticulous detail with warts, bad teeth and all.

The acting is of the highest level, the film looks great and is as accurate in the facts it tells as the costumes and landscapes it recreates.

The son of a barber and wig maker of Covent Garden, Turner sold directly to his clients, mostly the gentry, and did so as an equal. He was a difficult and taciturn man who lived for his art and was never part of a movement.

Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement

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Magnus Hirschfeld was central to the German gay rights movement at the turn of the 20th century. From the 1890s to the 1930s he was a member of numerous committees, societies, campaigns and institutes that together can be said to be the first major gay rights movement that involved thousands of people, and usually with him as the spokesperson and leader.

How to be Gay

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David M Halperin, Belkap Press, £14.95

This is three books in one, or rather two and a half. The half is a magazine-style essay on what happened when the author David Halperin, who is professor of the history and theory of sexuality at the University of Michigan, announced that he was running a course with the title of the book.

A hoo-ha followed with the religious right and others accusing him of trying to "convert naive innocent students" to becoming gay. It is an interesting piece of gay history in Chicago, and in the end good triumphs over bad.

Art and the market: creativity for sale

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Modern art has always had a troubled relationship under capitalism, writes Noel Halifax. Art movements that express the urges of rebellion, find themselves consumed by capital.

Throughout his life the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky had an interest in art. He took part in heated debates after the 1917 Revolution in Russia over the nature of art, poetry, cinema and literature. Trotsky debated with the "Prolecult" movement about the meaning and use of art in the revolution.

Lou Reed 1942-2013

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The media have been full of praise for Lou Reed now that he is dead, as is the norm for the hypocritical press. He would have hated it. Lou Reed hated the press in general but especially loathed the British press.

He was loudly and openly scornful of celebrity culture and fame. He saw himself as a rebel poet who sang rather than as a pop singer. One of his last public gigs was at Occupy in New York reciting a poem against Wall Street.

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life

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If you are brought up in the North like me, you tend to be force-fed Lowry as a symbol of Northern grit and working class art in contract to the fancy art of the London establishment.

His work is seen as straight talking stuff and "much loved" - no art school rubbish here. I naturally grew up loathing him.

This exhibition shows him in a wider context. In fact, nearly all I thought about him was wrong. He was not working class but brought up very upper middle class and only fell into the lower middle when he was in his 20s. He was not self taught and based his art on late French impressionism - until the 1940s he was shown more in Paris than in Britain.

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