Thursday, December 01, 2005

Coming up Rosen

Perhaps best-known these days for poetry
for children and presenting BBC Radio Four's children's books programme Treasure Islands, Michael Rosen makes a welcome return to the Red Rose club in Finsbury Park, north London, on December 11. I've dug out this old pic of him appearing there in a benefit some years back, was it for Yesh Gvul?
(Israeli reservists who refused to serve in Lebanon or the Occupied Territories)
Perhaps someone with a better memory than mine will remind us.
Mike Rosen's humourous poetry and appearance on comedy bills should not mislead you. He has had more than his share of tzorres with illness in the family. And the same political commitment that brings Mike plenty of invitations to perform or speak at peace rallies and similar events was seen by some people with power as reason enough to block his career path, despite his talents.

Having done well at Oxford, where he studied literature, wrote plays and acted, Mike was taken on as a graduate trainee at the BBC. He made no secret of his left-wing views, and John Laird who recruited him saw no reason why this should bar him from employment with the Corporation.
Others thought otherwise.

Sir Ian Trethowan, then Managing Director of BBC Radio and later Director General, asked Laird why he was appointing "reds" and "commies" as trainees.

"They're not communists," replied Laird. "They're independent socialists and dissidents. Besides, all the bright young people are left-wing these days."

"Oh, they're all the same to me, " said Trethowan. "They're all commies. I can't believe that there weren't some bright right-wing people."

(Blacklist, The inside story of political vetting, Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Hogarth Press, 1988).

Mike Rosen was sacked in 1972, and told that no department would offer him a job. It turned out two departments, Arts Features and Further Education, had wanted to employ him but were told they could not for "security reasons". Mike's experiences at the BBC, which may ring a bell with anyone who has come up against similar treatment anywhere, inspired this poem:-

The Job

After a long interview
Rosen was asked to see a man
with garters on his shirt sleeves
who kept opening and shutting a filing cabinet
and saying, We cherish our rebels.
Then he said, We'll go nap, now scoot.

Rosen discovered
that this meant he had been given the job.

Rosen met Roger in Staff Training every three months.
Roger told Rosen that he was doing very well.

Roger told Rosen that though he was doing very well
there didn't seem to be quite so many openings.

Rosen told Roger that some people in other departments
were keen he should work there.

Roger told Rosen that it looked interesting
but Rosen wouldn't like it.

Roger told Rosen to apply for Staff jobs.
Rosen heard he had got one of these.

Roger told Rosen that sadly, this was not the case.
Roger sent Rosen home on full pay.

Roger rang Rosen up once a week to say everyone
was doing what they could.

After several months
Roger told Rosen he had to meet Head of Staff Training.

HST said he was very glad to have had Rosen on board
but thought that it would be better if Rosen went freelance.

It took Rosen the time it takes
to walk from Broadcasting House to Oxford Circus
to realise he had been sacked.

Twelve years later Rosen opened the paper
and read that MI5 had thought it unwise
that Rosen be given a job.
Rosen thought about
Roger's kind honest face
Rosen speculated about:
Roger's brain,
Roger's promotion prospects,
Roger's mortgage.

(from You are, aren't you, poems by Michael Rosen,
published by Mushoom Bookshop and Jewish Socialist publications, 1993).

Things may have changed, but it must have taken real talent and persistence to overcome early discouragement and obstruction.

Getting back to the comedy, as part of an evening to celebrate 50 issues of Jewish Socialist magazine (launched twenty years ago), Michael Rosen will be appearing along with comics Ivor Dembina, Jeremy Hardy, Jeff D.Hunter and Matt Kirshen, quite a star line-up, at the Red Rose club, on Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park, on Sunday evening, December 11.

Also performing will be a youthful Klezmer band called the Rock n'Rollmops.

The show starts at 8.30pm but its best to get there before 8pm to get a seat and if you want, a drink. Tickets are £8/£6 and you can book in advance by phoning the Red Rose on 020 7281 3051 to go on the reservation list. Turn up 7.30pm to pay and pick up your ticket(s).

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