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The history of printing is a radical one. The invention of Johann Gutenberg’s movable type is generally referred to as a printing revolution. It quickened the spread of literacy in Renaissance Europe and contributed to the Reformation. Printing stands at the forefront of various revolutionary developments, both in a political and a socio-cultural sense.

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Seen from a different perspective, the printing trade has been at the forefront of the organised labour movement, creating trade unions, and being involved in the establishment of industrial relations practices. The art and skills of printing were relatively stable for a long time, but they have undergone many transformations since. At the end of the eighteenth century printing was still performed on wooden presses which were not only slow and cumbersome, but also produced an inconsistent impression. Attempts were made to mechanise the process. The use of a rolling cylinder to overcome manual strain and increase speed in printing was suggested as early as 1616 by Faustus Verantius in his remarkable study Machinae novae. It would take another two centuries before a practical printing cylinder machine eventually emerged.

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Printing House Square in the City acquired its name after the Great Fire of London when the King’s Printer settled there in order to publish official documents and the London Gazette, the official government journal of record. In 1785, John Walter began publishing the Daily Universal Register at the square which was renamed The Times in January 1788. In 1974 the paper moved to Gray’s Inn Road and then to Wapping in 1986. The fifty-four week Wapping dispute during the Thatcher era, along with the miners’ strike of 1984/5, has been one of the worst conflicts in British industrial relations. Target was the newspaper empire of News International (with its flagship publication The Times, and parent to The Sun, The News of the World, and others). Its owner, the Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch, wanted to introduce technological innovations that would put 90% of typesetters out of work. It was a bitter and violent confrontation. This was not the first time that The Times had been at war with its employees. The introduction of advanced technologies and the restructuring of production processes have hit the workforce hard at times. The workers struck back. Faith in machinery was perceived as the danger; technology was the enemy. Work had lost its dignity; man was reduced to the level of a machine.

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In September 1712 a sea-sick German immigrant arrived on a yacht called the Peregrine in Greenwich from Rotterdam. He was fluent in French, but did not and never would speak a word of English. His name was George Louis, the Elector of Hanover – and the new Protestant king of Britain known as George I. The Glorious Revolution had brought William III to the throne. He created the Bank of England and attracted financiers from the Dutch Republic to settle in Britain. The officers in his army were predominantly French Huguenots. He also introduced a strong element of Continental aesthetics around Hampton Court and into the upper strata of society. Queen Anne did not produce an heir – enter King George. The Hanoverians created their own inner circle of German high-society around them, but the tone of their rule was pragmatic, business-like, and industrial. It acquired a Teutonic accent. The emerging industrial apparatus of the Hanoverian state was developed with the aim of strengthening Britain’s role in Europe. The dominant importance of an overseas British Empire emerged later. Amongst the more notable immigrants were industrialists, manufacturers, engineers, chemists, inventors, and skilled workers. Britain donned the hard hat and overalls. This general atmosphere continued under Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (they spoke German at home) and was exemplified in a spectacular manner by the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first international public display of manufactured products.

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One of the new arrivals in Britain was Friedrich Gottlob Koenig. The son of a farmer, he was born on 17 April 1774 at Eisleben, in Saxony. After school, he was bound apprentice for five years to printers Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, which today is the oldest surviving music publishing house (founded in 1719). Having spent a year studying physics and mechanics at Leipzig University, he started experiments to improve the art of printing. Not finding any interest in his work at home or elsewhere in Europe, he settled in London in November 1806. Britain was the place to be. Business was booming there. It was an open society, keen to accept bright minds from abroad, eager to accept and develop new technologies, and there were no restrictions to the movement of migrants. The presence of the Hanoverian court was an additional stimulus for young Germans to make the journey across the Channel.

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In London Koenig was introduced to Thomas Bensley, a prominent printer in Bolt Court, off Fleet Street, who was interested in improving the firm’s machinery. He brought in two other printers to help finance Koenig’s experiments: Richard Taylor (whose firm is still active under the name Taylor & Francis) and typographer George Woodfall. On 30 November 1807 they signed a business agreement. Koenig was joined by fellow countryman and engineer (watchmaker) Andreas Friedrich Bauer. Together they constructed and patented the first printing machine powered by steam. After some experiments, plans were drawn up and a patent was taken out in October 1811. The press was tested in trial runs at the Koenig & Bauer workshop. The first sheets printed entirely from cylindrical pressure were sheets (G & X) from Thomas Clarkson’s book on the Life of Penn (1814). The trials proved successful. Several newspaper proprietors were invited to see Koenig’s new cylinder machine, but only John Walter of The Times realised its potential. To avoid difficulties with his workers, Walter insisted Koenig & Bauer conveyed, in secrecy, the machine parts to a workshop adjoining The Times offices on Printing House Square. Here it was constructed away from the paper’s composing and press rooms in order to avoid any anti-mechanical demonstrations or angry machine bashing.

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The printing of the first issue of the paper was a clandestine affair, but nervous rumours were rife on Printing House Square, and the atmosphere at the workplace was tense. At six o’clock in the morning, Walter entered the press room and astonished his employees by announcing the issue of 29 November 1814 had already been printed by steam. He warned against industrial action and promised that wages would be paid until alternative employment could be procured. In the event, the edition passed into circulation with little agitation from the workforce. The strategy of surprise had been a success. Koenig’s cylinder press, the output of which was soon increased to 1,100 sheets per hour, initiated the industrial revolution in printing and the age of the popular press.

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Critiques of mass culture, and of the press in particular, began emerging during the late eighteenth century. Writers such as Goethe attacked the banal diversions offered by the newspapers, noting that they were merely a means of escape from social reality. Journalism promoted passivity and conformity. Others offered more positive appraisals of the value of mass media. Karl Marx saw the press as a means of promoting democracy and civil liberties. The press became a contested terrain, with both fervent defenders and severe critics. Some saw it as an instrument of enlightenment, while others rejected it as a vehicle of banality and mass deception. Søren Kierkegaard was a relentless critic of the press. In 1854 he stated that if ‘I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I should by no means give her up; but if I had a son who became a journalist I should regard him as lost’. The role of an irresponsible and/or bias press remains a hotly disputed topic to this very day, recently fueled by the deplorable level of reporting leading up to the Brexit disaster.

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Friedrich Koenig in the meantime returned to Germany in 1817 where he established a printing press in Wurzburg. The firm was called Koenig & Bauer, after both inventors, making it the oldest printing press manufacturer in the world, as it is still in existence today.

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During the Second World War, radio was a vital tool of political power. By 1936, four million French citizens possessed a wireless in their homes with the choice of various main and local stations. After the invasion, the Nazis took hold of the dominant Radio-Paris, and Vichy gained control of stations in the south. To win the war of the radio waves (‘la guerre des ondes’) was judged as important as dominating the battlefields. From 1940 to 1944 Radio-Londres broadcast up to five hours a day from the BBC to occupied France. The station was operated by Charles de Gaulle’s Free French who had established their headquarters at no. 4 Carlton Gardens, Westminster. It opened its daily transmissions with the legendary words: ‘Ici Londres! Les Français parlent aux Français’. De Gaulle himself had made his famous appeal to the nation on 18 June 1940 to rise against the occupation. Radio-Londres was the voice of the French Resistance.

A group of young Free Frenchmen, including actor Jacques Duchesne (real name: Michel Saint-Denis, founder of the London Theatre Studio in 1935), painter Jean Oberlé, journalist and politician Maurice Schumann, entertainer Pierre Dac, Romanian-born composer Francis Chagrin and others (all close to De Gaulle) broke with broadcasting traditions and produced programs peppered with personal messages, satirical sketches, songs, and jokes. Jean Oberlé’s jingle ‘Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris est allemand’ (sung to the tune of ‘La Cucaracha’), first broadcast on 6 September 1940, was particularly memorable. Of deep significance was the contribution made by singer and songwriter Anna Marly. Born Anna Yurievna Betulinskaya on 30 October 1917 in St Petersburg she was a Russian refugee in France who made a successful career as a performer. After capitulation, she fled to London with her Dutch husband, Baron van Doorn, whom she had met whilst performing at The Hague. In London she joined up with the Free French. There she came across Emmanuel d’Astier de La Vigerie, a leading figure in the resistance, who had heard her sing the ‘Chant des partisans’ in Russian. He requested a translation of the song with the intention of using it as a replacement for ‘La Marseillaise’ which had been banned by the Nazis. It quickly established itself as the surrogate anthem of the French resistance both in France and Britain.

Radio-Londres broadcasts would begin with some ‘personal messages’ which were often amusing, confusing, or without apparent context. They were coded communications to underground agents. The station strongly supported the V for Victory campaign as an act of subversion. The idea was launched by the liberal politician and broadcaster Victor Auguste de Laveleye who was spokesman for the Belgian government in exile at Eaton Square, Belgravia. He also acted as newsreader for Radio-Belgique (Radio-België) which became the voice of Belgian Resistance. In a broadcast of 14 January 1941, he asked all Belgians – Flemish and Walloons – to choose the letter V as a symbol of unity in adversity: V for ‘Victoire & Vrijheid’. It was the start of the ‘Campagne des V’, which saw V graffity appearing in many urban settings in Belgium and the Netherlands. By July 1941, the emblematic use of the letter V had spread through occupied Europe. The campaign was endorsed by Winston Churchill in a speech of 19 July 1941.

Illustrator Maurice Van Moppès was born on 6 January 1905 in Paris, the son of an antiquarian. Between 1940 and 1943, under the initials MVP, he wrote a series of parodies on famous songs in which he ridiculed the German invaders and their French collaborators. Published as a booklet in 1944 entitled Chansons de la BBC, it was parachuted by the RAF into France in order to raise morale and encourage resistance. It included such songs as ‘La Chanson du Maquis’ (written together with Francis Chagrin). During the blitz on London, he wrote lyrics to the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony calling it ‘La chanson V’ (the opening motif of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony became a powerful symbol for the Allied forces: the short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern correspond in Morse code to the letter V). It was broadcast on Radio Londres on 1 June 1944 when the Allied forces sent the first messages to occupied France of an imminent invasion. Shortly before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, Radio Londres read out the first stanza of Paul Verlaine’s poem ‘Chanson d’automne’ to let the resistance know that the invasion would begin within twenty-four hours: ‘Les sanglots longs / Des violons / De l’automne / Blessent mon coeur / D’une langueur / Monotone’. The final three lines of the poem were a specific call to action to the French Resistance.

It would be tempting (but unjustified) to suggest that the legendary entertainer and Free France broadcaster Pierre Brac came up with the idea of Verlaine’s poem as a coded message. Born André Isaac in Châlons-sur Marne on 15 August 1893 into an Alsatian Jewish family (his father was a butcher), young Brac mastered the violin. Unfortunately, his left arm was injured in action during World War I (his brother Marcel died in action) and he was obliged to forget his musical hopes and ambitions. Dac became a cabaretier known as ‘Le roi des loufoques’ (The king of crackpots). Having escaped France via Spain, he joined Radio-Londres, broadcasting bitingly satirical songs, and deriding Nazi ideology and the German war machine. Pierre Dac was an unlikely hero of the French Resistance.

By late 1944, Allied victory in France sounded the end of Radio-Londres. What stands out in this period is the European spirit that was emerging amongst those who had been exiled in Britain. To them, London was a catalyst. Most refugees returned home, grateful towards their host country, and with one resolution in mind: this shall never again. Europe must unite. Churchill agreed. In a speech delivered at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946 he called on European countries, including Germany, to form a regional organisation for security and cooperation on the Continent. Today, that unifying spirit has evaporated. Memories are short and political egos overbearing. Darkness has fallen. The Brexit Betrayal has killed the flame and reduced Europe to the level of trade figures, car sales, currency fluctuations, and the V fingers that signify ‘fuck off you foreigner’. The dogs are loose. Prejudice barks, bigotry bites. Crackpots are back in charge. Bring out the violins. This shall never happen again.

 

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[The images in our blog are always anonymous. I make an exception for the first and the last image. The last is a photo of Jewish musicians who were forced to play while the victims of the Nazis were marched to the gas chambers. The first image shows a nice portrait of the infamous Farage. I honor the musicians, what I think of Farage, well … – Paul Dijstelberge]