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James Joyce: Exhuming bones and resurrecting house of The Dead

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This Georgian townhouse on Dublin’s Usher’s Island was the real-life setting of the “world’s greatest short story”

Ireland’s difficult relationship with one of its most famous sons, James Joyce, has been re-exposed by two recent controversies.

The first is a campaign to exhume the author’s remains from his grave in Switzerland and repatriate them to his native Dublin.

The second is a plan to transform the house that provided the setting for one of his most acclaimed works, The Dead, into a 56-bedroom hostel.

Both were met with some incredulity, but also reignited debate about protecting the legacy of one of the world’s most influential authors.

‘Dirty books’

Joyce was born in 1882 but left Ireland in his early 20s and rarely returned to the country so outraged by his literature.

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James Joyce spent most of his adult life living outside Ireland

Until the latter part of the 20th Century, he remained “an anathema to the Irish establishment”, according to Ireland’s best known Joycean scholar.

“They saw Joyce as someone who was anti-Irish; who was profligate; who ran away with a chambermaid; who wrote dirty books,” Senator David Norris explained.

“It’s only in recent years Joyce has become so popular… partly through the revenue that’s generated for tourism.

“Nothing so disinfects a reputation as the clink of money in the till.”

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Senator David Norris

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Senator David Norris has won awards for his contribution to Joyce’s legacy

Senator Norris has been involved in promoting Joyce’s work for decades and helped set up Dublin’s James Joyce Centre in 1996.

In the 1960s, he identified a crumbling Georgian townhouse as the real-life setting of the author’s best-known short story, The Dead.

Shock discovery

Number 15 Usher’s Island was once home to Joyce’s great aunts, who rented the top floors.

The Dead was heavily inspired by dinner parties Joyce attended as a guest of the two women in the 1890s.

The fictional plot focuses on a man who makes a shock discovery about his wife’s past, after attending a party at his aunts’ house on Usher’s Island.

The actual plot is subject to a planning application to transform the building into a hostel and cafe.

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A haunting ballad heard on the staircase of 15 Usher’s Island leads to tragic revelations in Joyce’s The Dead

Critics have condemned the proposal as “cultural vandalism”.

When it became public, 99 writers and artists signed a letter calling on the culture minister to save the house “for the nation and the world”.

Signatories included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Colm Tóibín and Anne Enright.

Describing The Dead as “the world’s greatest short story”, they said too many places associated with Joyce had already been lost.

The Department of Culture said the planning application was a matter for Dublin City Council.

But it added the building was on Dublin’s “protected structures” list, which placed a duty on planners to “seek to safeguard their future”.

The difficulty in preserving Dublin’s Joycean property portfolio is that the author lived in about 20 homes around the city.

As Joyce’s spendthrift father slid down the social ladder from landlordship to bankruptcy, the family moved house to house to avoid outstanding rent bills.

Many of the houses were unremarkable, except for their famous resident, and some have already been demolished.

The house of The Dead has been a protected structure since 1987, but that did not save it from near ruin.

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Despite its protected structure status, the house fell into a very poor state of repair

By the time barrister Brendan Kilty bought the building in 2000, it had no roof and the rear wall was collapsing.

Ravaged by fire and water damage, it had become a squat for drug addicts.

“There were 20 people living rough here, and on the floor that I’m standing on now, we collected two bucketfuls of heroin syringes,” Mr Kilty said in a 2012 interview.

He secured the structure and spent years transforming it into a visitors’ centre.

But he later went bankrupt and the house was sold in 2017.

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The previous owner of 15 Usher’s Island tried to operate it as a Joyce-themed visitors’ centre

Current co-owner Fergus McCabe has argued a hostel is the “only financially viable” proposal.

He said it would comply with conservation regulations as it involves “little remodelling” of existing floors.

Mr McCabe claimed it would be “foolhardy to repeat” failed efforts to run the entire house as a visitors’ centre, but added they plan to turn part of it into a “cultural facility” dedicated to Joyce.

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Joyce (top left) with his wife and family in Paris in 1934

For Senator Norris, that would not be enough at all.

“To put in nearly 60 bedrooms would certainly change the internal structure of the house and I think that would be a shame,” he said.

However, he worries the house could lapse into dereliction if there was a protracted legal dispute.

The senator also acknowledges the government funds several other Joyce-themed tributes and “can’t take over everything”.

Dublin City Council is still considering the application and said a decision is due “no later than” 19 December 2019.

‘Divided opinion’

Joyce died in Zurich in 1941, having not set foot in Ireland during the latter half of his life.

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James Joyce is buried in a family plot in Fluntern cemetery, Zurich

According to Senator Norris, his widow wanted his body repatriated after World War Two but a reluctant Irish government “scuppered” efforts.

Last month, two Dublin councillors proposed asking the current government to repatriate Joyce’s remains before 2022 – the centenary of the publication of his novel Ulysses.

Councillor Dermot Lacey has since decided not to proceed.

He told BBC News NI the campaign “divided opinion” and it was unclear if it was supported by the Joyce’s surviving relatives.

But Councillor Paddy McCartan said he was “not going to drop the idea” until it was debated as it had “considerable support” among Dubliners.

However, he too said he would ultimately respect the family’s wishes.



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Frank Skinner: ‘I’m all for a bit of moral menace’

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Frank Skinner played ukulele at the Queen’s 92nd birthday celebrations in 2018

“The edge of inappropriate is the spiritual home of the best stand-up comedy,” proclaims Frank Skinner in the programme notes for his new West End show, Showbiz.

It’s also, he jokes, “the name of my country house in Gloucestershire”.

The 62-year-old, who has made a pretty good living walking the tightrope of comedic taste, is about to ride the bus (using his over 60s travel card) to London’s Garrick Theatre, as he speaks to the BBC, for the first night of a five-week residency, having road-tested it around the UK last year.

Loosely-based around celebrity anecdotes he’s acquired over the past 25 years working as one of the country’s most cherished comedians, Skinner’s show is littered with poetic and funny filth about his decaying body, lessening libido and late arrival to fatherhood in his mid-50s.

In an era when critics have called “wokeness” – the modern day political correctness – the death knell for comedy, the veteran stand-up still trusts his instincts.

“Sometimes when you start improvising on stage, which I do a fair bit of, obviously you haven’t planned it. But to be honest, it’s not like I’m one of these blokes who is sitting at home pouring it all out and then does a different thing on stage.

“I think the line between me on and off is fairly blurred”.

In other words, if a joke is good enough to tell down the pub, then it’s fit for the stage too.

‘Lightness of touch’

The Royal family, Bruce Forsyth and the ahem, “cursed” Strictly dancers all find themselves on the receiving end of Skinner’s dry wit in the show, which The Guardian said finds the “statesman of stand-up shows” showing “no sign of stiffening”.

“It’s rare to see such fast-thinking wit deployed with such a sense of joy,” added The Times’ Dominic Maxwell.

Skinner declared on-stage during Wednesday’s press night that “a lightness of touch” is required when tackling certain topics (mostly genitalia). He allayed the fears of an apparently worried-looking audience member named Linda that she needn’t worry about an accent he was about to attempt.

“When I started doing comedy,” he adds, “We were very much what was then called ‘alternative comedy’ and the two great centrepieces of that was non-sexist, non-racist.

“That was that was the big thing, which now seems absolutely basic, page one, but then was revolutionary.

“I did mainstream working men’s clubs in Birmingham, and you would not believe the racism, for example, was absolutely the norm [for] friendly middle-aged entertainers.

“We were at the beginning of that and I think we started to expand it. So then you think, ‘Well what about homophobia?'”

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David Baddiel and Skinner presented TV shows Fantasy Football League

While he jokes woke culture means he’ll no longer help attractive young women with their heavy suitcases, Skinner believes the new normal parameters are “a sort of a militaristic approach to kindness”.

“Unless you force people to do stuff, most people won’t do it. So I think you can make a few interesting dramas about sexual predators, but the best way to stop it is to say to people, they’ll lose their job.

“So I’m all for a bit of moral menace, as it were”.

US President Barack Obama recently spoke of his distrust of righteous online trolls, while US comedian Dave Chappelle made a whole stand-up special about cancel culture. Satirist Armando Iannucci said last week he thinks people are “losing the appetite to engage in argument” for fear of causing offence.

“I think it can be annoying at times,” Skinner goes on, “It can empower idiots on occasion, and when it becomes like a parlour game where people sit around saying, ‘Oh, you said that, and you shouldn’t have said that…

“I grew up going to football matches where people threw bananas at black players and we didn’t have to sit around and debate whether it was racist or not. But I think it’s one of the major social advances of the last 60 years.”

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Frank Skinner

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He anchored the TV show Room 101 from 2012-2018, before the BBC bosses put the show in there itself, but still hosts a weekly show on Absolute Radio

He believes that in the age of Twitter, it would be hard for any comedian harbouring suspect personal views to fake it for long anyway.

“I got in one night and my partner said to me, ‘What were you doing in Superdrug?’ And I thought, ‘This is it now, this is East Germany!’

“All my philandering in the past would be impossible in the modern generation”.

Fellow British comedian Ricky Gervais criticised celebrities at the Golden Globe Awards for mere virtue signalling and Skinner would tend to agree, noting “there’s only one thing more embarrassing than the celebrities talking about politics; and that’s politicians talking about anything other than politics”.

‘Best shot’

The working class millionaire confesses to have started preaching from the pulpit himself lately, to an audience of one: Seven-year-old son Buzz.

“The other day I gave a little speech at home about the fact that we shouldn’t see Frozen 2 as girl film, that there’s no such thing as a girl film.

“I don’t know whether I really believe that or not, but I felt it was important to say so!”

Dad and lad recently went on a history-themed trip to Rome, where the Catholic comedian managed to wangle front row tickets for an audience with the Pope at The Vatican. This time through his church connections, not his showbiz ones.

Another family trip saw Skinner make a deal with his partner of 19 years, Cath Mason, not to swear for the first five minutes of his set at Latitude Festival so the youngster could see his old man at work.

The star, who suffered a bad bout of pneumonia in late 2018 (“it’s great for the cheekbones!”), says he’s giving the late dad thing his “best shot”, mindful of how many younger men have made mess of it.

“If I’d have had kids in my 20s it would have been nightmarish”.

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Frank – whose real name is Christopher Collins – alongside long-term girlfriend Cath Mason

Skinner was in his 30s when he decided to give stand-up a shot, while working as an English lecturer, and he soon found himself winning the coveted Perrier Award at Edinburg Fringe Festival in 1991.

In the 1990s he became a household name, flying the flag for the (slightly) more intellectual end of lad culture alongside David Baddiel on the cult TV show Fantasy Football League, en route to getting his own chat show.

The teetotaller admits he used to live it up when he first got famous but says the effects soon wore off, and as a result he now has few actual showbiz friends as a result.

For this he blames his “lack of Class A drugs credentials” during an era of mass hedonism in British pop culture.

Although he didn’t fully large it up like the Gallagher brothers he did have similar chart success thanks to the England Euro 96 football anthem Three Lions, which he wrote with Baddiel and Lightning seed Ian Broudie (both of whom stepped out to see their old pal perform this week).

As his beloved England made it to the 2018 World Cup Semi-Finals, the song broke a chart record by returning to the top for a fourth time. Sadly though it broke another one soon after, by becoming fastest-falling number one of all-time, dropping to number 97 after Gareth Southgate’s men were knocked-out by Croatia.

Through bleary eyes, Skinner – who thinks England’s Euro 2020 forwards look “deadly” – was at least equipped to see the funny side.

“It’s beautiful that it was by 96 places. Couldn’t be better.”

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Three Lions was written by Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel

Frank Skinner’s stand-up show Showbiz runs at London’s Garrick Theatre until 15 February

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Disney culls ‘Fox’ from 20th Century Fox in rebrand

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The 20th Century Fox logo will lose a word but retain the same look, according to reports

Disney executives have cut the word “Fox” from their 20th Century Fox film studio in an apparent bid to distance it from operations of the previous owner, Rupert Murdoch.

US media suggests Disney does not want to be associated with the media mogul’s highly partisan, right-wing Fox News network.

However, Disney has not clarified its reasons.

It bought the studio, with other media operations, in a $71bn deal last March.

20th Century Fox is known for producing some of the biggest films of all-time, including Avatar and Titanic.

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Variety magazine, which broke the news about the name change, said it had spoken to an unnamed Disney source, who said: “I think the Fox name means Murdoch, and that is toxic.”

Hollywood is known for being liberal, unlike the Australian tycoon.

Disney has also renamed Fox Searchlight Pictures, the arthouse arm, as simply Searchlight Pictures.

Staff emails were changed on Friday, from @fox.com to @20thcenturystudios.com or @searchlight.com.

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Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News has been a cheerleader for Donald Trump

The original 20th Century Fox company was formed in 1935 following a merger.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought it in the mid-1980s, and the Fox News channel was created in 1996, growing to become most-watched in the US.

News Corporation was later split into News Corp and 21st Century Fox – which Disney acquired as the parent company of various film and television studios, including the renowned 20th Century Fox.

The Murdoch family retained the news outlets in a spin-off company, Fox Corporation, which is run by Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachland.

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Variety says the 20th Century Fox studio’s well-known fanfare theme and searchlight logo will be retained.

Disney also runs 20th Century Fox Television and Fox 21 Television Studios. Any changes to their names have not been announced.

Disney is already a dominant force in US news, as the owner of the ABC network. It is also hoping to challenge Netflix with its own streaming service Disney+, which launched in the US last year.



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Jack Reacher author Lee Child passes writing baton to brother

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Lee Child has written 24 Jack Reacher novels

The author of the best-selling Jack Reacher novels is handing over the writing duties to his younger brother.

Lee Child, 65, reportedly considered killing off the 6ft 5ins vigilante hero, who is played by actor Tom Cruise in film adaptations.

But the writer said: “I love my readers and know they want many, many more Reacher stories in the future.”

His brother Andrew Grant, 51, who will write under the pen name Andrew Child, is already an established author.

Child, whose real name is James Grant, said he felt he was “ageing out” of being able to produce more of the books.

He said: “So I have decided to pass the baton to someone who can.”

He described his younger sibling as the “best tough-guy writer I have read in years.”

“We share the same DNA, the same background, the same upbringing,” he said, adding: “He’s me, fifteen years ago, full of energy and ideas.”

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There have been two Jack Reacher films starring Tom Cruise

The Coventry-born author said they would work on the next few novels together “and then he’ll strike out on his own”.

Child started writing after being fired from his job as a presentation director at Granada Television in 1995.

His first Reacher novel, Killing Floor, was published in 1997.

He has since sold more than 100 million books and Amazon has announced it is adapting the series for TV.

The novels, which are set in the United States, have been translated into 40 languages and adapted into two movies starring Cruise.

The protagonist of the book series is a former major in the US Army military police who roams the US investigating suspicious and dangerous situations.

Grant said he had been “blown away” by his elder brother’s first Reacher novel.

He said: “The more time I spent with him in each new adventure, the more I craved the next. So I know what it’s like to wait for the new Reacher novel.”

He added: “I understand what Reacher fans want – because I am one. And I’ll do my best to deliver for them.

“I’ll have to. Because my big brother will be watching.”

The Sentinel, the 25th Jack Reacher novel, is due to be published on 29 October 2020.



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