Page 405. " Not since Gordon Jackson replied to the German guard's English 'Good Luck' with an instant 'Thank you!' as he and Dickie Attenborough climbed aboard the bus to freedom in The Great Escape has anyone been so irretrievably, unforgivably, slappably, dumb. "

The 1963 film is based on the Paul Brickhill book of the same name. The details are taken from an actual escape of Allied prisoners of war from Stalag Luft III. Initial audience responses were underwhelming, and prompted one reviewer to write  "But for much longer than is artful or essential, The Great Escape grinds out its tormenting story without a peek beneath the surface of any man, without a real sense of human involvement. It's a strictly mechanical adventure with make-believe men." It has gone on, of course, to become a classic.



Page 408. " the brand-new county of Avon "
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Public DomainAvon - Credit: Heron, Wikimedia

Now the extinct county of Avon.  Created in 1974 and named after the local river, Avon incorporated the cities of Bristol and Bath.  It was abolished in 1996, its territory split between Somerset, Gloucestershire and Bristol.

Page 410. " the black of Mr McKay in Porridge "
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Porridge was a British sitcom that ran for three series over three years in the 1970s.  "Doing porridge" is slang for service time in prison.

Here are those silver-buttoned black uniforms:



Page 411. " what on earth could be the offences covered by sections 1-6? "
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As might be expected from the finest legal minds, the first six sections are all ponderous definitions of language.  Section 7 is very brief:

A person guilty of theft shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

Theft Act 1968 in full.

Page 414. " the Howard League for Penal Reform "

Bronze statue of John Howard in Bedford, England
Public DomainBronze statue of John Howard in Bedford, England - Credit: Simon Speed

The Howard League for Penal Reform is a London-based charity and the oldest of its kind in the UK. Since its foundation in 1866, it has had a significant influence on criminal justice policy. Its members include MPs, QCs, academics and students as well as prisoners. In recent years it has campaigned on children in prison, women prisoners, suicide and self-harm, community sentences, prison education, and young offenders. It is currently campaigning against the 'relentless rise in our prison population'. The charity is named after John Howard, one of the first English prison reformers.

Page 419. " This is how Oscar Wilde relates a similar experience in De Profundis. "
Lord_Alfred Douglas by George Charles Beresford
Public DomainLord_Alfred Douglas by George Charles Beresford - Credit: George Charles Beresford

 De Profundis (from the depths) is the 50,000 word letter Oscar Wilde wrote to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas whilst in Reading Gaol. It provides an historical account of his sins, suffering and sentencing as well as a fascinating insight into Victorian prison life. In it he pours obloquy on Alfred Douglas whom he sees as largely responsible for his downfall, and explores the redemption he has found through his ordeal. After his release, Wilde's remaining days were spent in France, where he languished penniless and moribund. He died of ill-health at the age of forty six.

Oscar Wilde on Book Drum


The letter begins:

Suffering is one very long moment.  We cannot divide it by seasons.  We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return.  With us time itself does not progress.  It revolves.  It seems to circle round one centre of pain.  The paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula: this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to those external forces the very essence of whose existence is ceaseless change.  Of seed-time or harvest, of the reapers bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through the vines, of the grass in the orchard made white with broken blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit: of these we know nothing and can know nothing. 

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