IVOR Novello was a pop star before the term was ever created. He composed the melody to the song Keep the Home Fires Burning that provided comfort to millions of British women as their loved ones fought for King and Country in the Great War.
He also provided the music for numerous revues, as well as being a silent movie star who successfully moved into talkies after a spell on the stage, which included playing in the West End and on Broadway. He also wrote the book and music for numerous stage musicals in the 1930s and during the Second World War.
None of this celebrity saved Novello from serving four weeks in prison in 1944, and it was not for his poorly-concealed homosexual activities.
Working in London but with his main residence in Berkshire, Novello reportedly could not bear the journey by public transport from Paddington to Maidenhead.
Private motoring was effectively illegal in wartime Britain, as there was no petrol ration for civilians. Even the use of cars adapted to run on coal gas, which required them to have a blimp-like structure on their roof, was strictly controlled.
An adoring fan abused her employment to have the ownership of Novello’s car transferred to the firm that employed her and converted to use gas for ‘vital war work’. It was then a simple matter to state that the car was used to ferry directors to the firm’s factories.
Novello’s chauffeur was given a letter showing he worked for the firm. The scam was only exposed when the same Novello fan was caught embezzling money and she spilled the beans.
Novello was caught bang to rights. This was a serious charge. There was a drastic shortage of fuel of all kinds. Despite oil wells being sunk in England, the vast majority of petrol had to be imported through waters infested with German submarines at a cost in lives of British merchant seamen of a higher proportionality than in the fighting forces.
One tenth of the men taken up by conscription for National Service worked down the coal mines as ‘Bevin Boys’ to satisfy the demands of the wartime economy. Every drop of fuel, every ounce of coal, mattered in a fight to the death against Hitlerism.
National celebrity did not save university lecturer C E M Joad from being convicted for fare-dodging on a railway journey. Joad was also a media figure, who made his name by popularising philosophy, to the disdain of his contemporaries – who rather disliked someone placing ladders against their ivory towers.
An author of numerous well-received books before the Second World War, Joad was the proposer in the infamous Oxford Union ‘King and Country’ debate of 1933.
He was also Stephen Potter’s tennis partner in a doubles game against two younger and more athletic opponents who were defeated by the older men’s not-quite-cheating tactic of unsettling them, a tactic that gave rise to Potter’s famous theories of Gamesmanship.
A man with apparently no limit to his personal vanity, Joad’s fame was enhanced by being a regular fixture on the wartime BBC radio show The Brains Trust.
His books had quite modest titles such as The Book of Joad and The Testament of Joad. It is likely that it was Joad to whom George Orwell was referring when he wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier: ‘One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words “Socialism” and “Communism” draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, “Nature Cure” quack, pacifist, and feminist in England”, as Joad comfortably fitted into at least four of these categories.
In Testament, Joad made his boast: ‘I cheat the railway company whenever I can, returning on the next day with a cheap day return ticket or alleging, when I arrive ticketless at my destination, that I entered the train at a station nearer to it than was in fact the case.’
Testament was published in April 1937 when the railway companies Joad would cheat were privately owned. It is possible that the chairmen and boards of these companies indulged Joad in his petty escapades, for he was never caught.
It is therefore ironic that when Joad tried to pull the same stunt after the post-war Labour government had taken the railways under state control that he was not only caught, but charged, convicted, and fined. Instead of defrauding well-heeled shareholders, Joad was now defrauding ‘the people’. It is widely believed that this conviction cost Joad a peerage.
Which all brings me to the Sky News presenter Kay Burley. Burley has not tried to evade the strictures of rationing or the attention of a ticket collector. All she has done is to have a night out with friends to celebrate her 60th birthday.
However, Burley did this at a time when freedom of association is, rightly or wrongly, under severe restriction. The restrictions are in place because of the fear of communicating disease.
These restrictions are not guidelines, comparable with those suggesting giving up smoking, drinking less, and eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. They are in fact more comparable with driving a car whilst over the blood-alcohol limit.
However, unlike Novello and Joad, Burley does not appear to have been the subject of official attention for what seems to be breaking the law. In fact the only sanction she has received has been to be taken off our screens, as she has broken the first rule of news presenters – Never Be The News.
But that seems to have been all. Whatever people’s views are on these restrictions, they are clearly being unevenly applied – some people are being prosecuted and not others – and that is not a good look for a law passed in a democracy.
There seems to be a definite pecking order based on the status of the person committing the breach. If their identity provides any form of clout, be it celebrity or the risk of civil disorder, they are not proceeded against.
Perhaps Burley has been fined for organising her illegal get-together, and it has not been made public to spare her blushes and save her job. But justice has to be exemplary to be respected. Secret justice may not qualify as proper justice.
It is interesting that while there were days of clamour for Dominic Cummings to be prosecuted for his mid-lockdown Durham flit, all accompanied by saturation media coverage – not the least on Sky News broadcasts by Burley and colleagues who were also at her party – that the Burley story has been allowed to sink without trace, perhaps by journalists who think ‘there but for the grace of God …’
There were differences. Neither Burley nor any of her party were reported to have been infected, but there is a clear double standard on show here.
There is no good reason why Burley should not face justice in the same manner as did Novello and Joad. If she does not, then this says far too much about how the rule of law has changed in this country since the turn of the century, if not the turn of the decade, and it has clearly not changed for the better.