If London doesn’t want statue of George Orwell what about Toronto, to honour Jack Layton?

Aug 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Before he became famous for Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell worked for BBC radio, from 1941 to 1943, “broadcasting a mix of war propaganda and intellectual chat to India.”

Like other individuals and institutions in anglophone Canada lately, the Toronto Globe and Mail has a bit too often seemed to be trying to return to the now vanished golden age of the greatest empire since Rome, on which the sun never dared to set.

This particular retro-colonial version of the Peter Pan syndrome, on the other hand, does have its compensations. Canada’s self-proclaimed national newspaper, eg, has now helpfully reported that “ BBC says it won’t allow statue of George Orwell at its entrance … To the surprise of right-wing commentators, it is possible to be too lefty for the BBC … The British public broadcaster, which is often criticized by conservatives for its political slant, will not allow a statue of George Orwell to grace the entrance of its new headquarters.”

Rowan Atkinson (centre) and colleagues from the BBC mid 1990s comedy series, The Thin Blue Line – reruns of which are still available on US public television in the Great Lakes region of North America. Mr. Atkinson (perhaps still more famous in Canada as Mr. Bean) is a supporter of the George Orwell Memorial Trust.

As the “outgoing BBC Director-General Mark Thompson” apparently explained to “Baroness Joan Bakewell, a supporter of the George Orwell Memorial Trust … ‘Oh no, Joan, we can’t possibly. It’s far too left-wing an idea’.”

In the age of the internet, of course, news of this sort can be quickly plumbed in greater depth by turning directly to various horses’ mouths. And from the broadly “left wing” Guardian website we learn that : “The statue was proposed by the George Orwell Memorial Trust, run by former Labour politician Ben Whitaker, and backed by names including Rowan Atkinson … and Orwell’s son Richard Blair. More than £60,000 has been raised to have [noted sculptor] Martin Jennings … create it … The trust is currently waiting for Westminster city council to give planning permission to erect the statue in Portland Place, nearby but not on the BBC’s premises.”

Inside the BBC’s new headquarters, which opened in 2011: “The aim of this eye-popping expenditure is to bring TV, radio and online operations together, increasing efficiency while reducing costs, by getting rid of a plethora of properties across town.”

Meanwhile, at the broadly “right wing” Daily Mail online, Nigel Jones has more than a little  misleadingly informed his readers that the reason for outgoing BBC Director-General Mark Thompson’s reluctance in this case could actually “be the hatred still held  by many on the Left for Orwell” whose “Socialism was literally knocked out of him by his appalling experiences in the Spanish Civil War,” and “who in his novels ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ wrote the most damning indictments of Marxist totalitarianism ever penned.”

Well … not exactly. Someone should remind Mr. Jones that George Orwell continued to call himself a “democratic Socialist” until his all too early death in 1950, and that the conservative T.S. Eliot at Faber and Faber declined to publish ‘Animal Farm.’ He felt its “positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing … after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm … so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

Meanwhile, back in the Toronto, Canada that still hosts the Globe and Mail (and that was once known as “the citadel of British sentiment in America”), we can only wonder just how the awesome Saint George of the first half of the 20th century might feel about having any kind of statue erected in his honour? Assuming he would finally approve himself, however reluctantly, we can only hope that Westminster city council will soon enough “give planning permission to erect the statue in Portland Place, nearby but not on the BBC’s premises.” (This is south of Regent’s Park, if your London geography remains a bit hazy, and north of Oxford Circus, where the BBC’s New Broadcasting House, which opened just last year, is located.)

Statue of Winston Churchill in Toronto, Canada, south west corner of City Hall Square.

At the same time, if the Westminster city council also turns its nose up at a George Orwell statue, for whatever alleged reasons, some group in Toronto just might get in touch with Baroness Joan Bakewell, Ben Whitaker, Rowan Atkinson, and the others involved in the George Orwell Memorial Trust – and offer to host the thing here. It could be located quite close to the statute of Winston Churchill, just south and west of the new City Hall. And it could be dedicated to the late great Jack Layton, who probably stood for essentially the same kind of “democratic Socialism” as George Orwell (and whose funeral procession last year got its start near the statue of Winston Churchill, to the south and west of the new City Hall). And who knows? Maybe Mayor Ford, having been suitably misled by a staff report on the political thought of Nigel Jones, would even want to serve on the welcoming committee!

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