Thursday, 8 November 2012

Check The Facts Not The Image

Whenever I read a biography of a person or a publication which has been written about an event, regardless of what it is, I prefer tomes which are dispassionate, neutral and which are laden with facts that are detailed and can be substantiated, and when as much accurate and reliable information is provided as possible. I have found in general, autobiographies, unless totally and brutally honest, are too self-serving.

This is certainly preferable to propaganda or hagiographies. Too many people are taken in by myths, half-truths, horseshit or bullshit which gets repeated and circulated and taken as gospel about a person or an event or an image that is projected in the media. Isn't it amazing how once spread, something like that gets set in stone?

When I look for information on politics or current affairs, I try to obtain information from sources that are as neutral and unbiased as is possible. I wouldn't look for information in the Daily Mirror, which gives you left-wing propaganda. Nor would I look for information or facts in the Sun, or the Daily Express, or the Daily Mail, all of which give you right-wing, sometimes hard right-wing, propaganda and bias.

I have, in the last two years, encountered numerous books about several individuals or events where facts and data have been used to counteract the legend or the image. In 1994 the late football manager Brian Clough brought out his autobiography. No doubt it was read by the average football fan and taken to be 100% true. In one story, set in April 1959, Clough told of how he scored two goals in the last two minutes of a match against Liverpool to win the game for Middlesbrough who he played for at the time. At the end of the match Bill Shankly, the Liverpool manager, apparently walked across the pitch and told Harold Shepherdson, Clough's manager at the time, "He (Clough) hasn't had a F*cking kick!!!!". Shepherdson allegedly replied "Well he's had at least two to my knowledge Bill!!".

A good answer, and it could very well be that this event or exchange involving Shankly and Sheperdson did happen in a later match in Clough's career with Middlesbrough, but it was not on that occasion. Regarding the match in question, Clough did indeed score, but it wasn't near the end of the match, and one fact I am surprised nobody has ever noticed, least of all Jonathan Wilson in his book about Clough in 2011 which for me is the best and most detailed about the subject, which is that Shankly did not become Liverpool manager until December 1959, so for him to have said that to Shepherdson in April 1959 as Liverpool manager would never have happened. Yet this story has been repeated in various books and publications. In his 1994 autobiography Clough also described the late Sir Harold Thompson as a great "Mathematician" when he was a Chemist. There are other information and corrections in Jonathan Wilson's book regarding some of the stories Clough told.

Other publications which I have come across that have gave an unbiased account, or have corrected information which has been repeated, regurgitated and taken as gospel, or at least has gave a more even-handed account, which I have come across, have been Richard Sutcliffe's biography of Don Revie (2010). I am no Leeds United fan, but I find it interesting to read a more detailed, balanced and open-ended account of the man commonly portrayed as a traitor, a neurotic, a cheat and a mercenary, as he has so often has been by the press and his detractors, and the image has stuck. Revie might have engaged in activities that got him labelled as these things, but I wanted to know more about the man behind the labels.

Another one I have found interesting because it provides factual information and challenges the long-held presumptions of the story was "John Christie of Rillington Place: Biography of a Serial Killer" by Jonathan Oates (2012). The popular version of the story, in the publics mind, is that an intelligent but evil sexual psychopath killed the wife of Timothy Evans, a gullible and illiterate van driver, and his daughter and conned him into admitting he had done it, and as a result, Evans, wrongly (as widely believed) was hanged on Thursday 9th March 1950. Christie murdered several other people, including his wife, until his arrest, and subsequent and undisputably correct execution on Wednesday 15th July 1953. The book challenges the assumptions and provides factual and detailed information about the two men, their backgrounds and their families.

If you ask many people who they think was the greatest boxer of all time, they will say "Mohammed Ali" or "Cassius Clay" as he was previously known as. Yes he was a brilliant boxer, at his peak, in the 1960's and 1970's. He was also a great showman. He was certainly the best, or if not one of the best during that era.

Despite all this information, to call him the best ever is stretching a point somewhat. Training methods and fitness are vastly different now than in the 1960's and 1970's. Would he have beaten Mike Tyson at his peak in the late 1980's? How can you argue with Rocky Marciano going 46 out of 46 fights undefeated? Would Ali have beaten Jack Dempsey? Would he have beaten Joe Louis at his peak? He might not have been the best ever boxer, to paraphrase, again, Brian Clough, but he was the top one!!!

A politician might come across as an avuncular figure or a nice guy. Yet his policies might be brutal or extreme.

So yes, in life, I think it is vital that you check behind the facts and information before you are fooled by the image or rumour or heresay. Look at Jimmy Savile and the image he had. After his death we were given the reality of the man.

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