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The Royal Institute of British Architects was the venue for an evening remembering the late Vaclav Havel, hosted by the Czech ambassador, Michael Zantovsky, and Sir Tom Stoppard.
After a request to turn off all mobile phones, the first voice was a recording of Havel himself speaking. Songs, readings and excerpts from his plays followed, interspersed with archive and recent documentary footage. Along with Stoppard's tribute, these snatches of film were the pinnacle of the evening. Even to think of Havel is, I find, to feel a lifting sensation. At the end there was recent footage of him swimming alone towards the camera and then a cutaway of a pond with water-lilies. From underwater Havel suddenly popped up and addressed the camera: "You may now turn on your mobile phones. After all, life must go on."
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Fighting totalitarianism is something everybody says they would do when they live in freedom. But it is remarkable how few people even notice, let alone object to, incursions within their own orbit. One victim of a totalitarian mindset in our own country, Ray Honeyford, died recently. It was in the early 1980s in the Salisbury Review that this quiet Bradford headmaster committed the error of saying something that was true but nobody wanted to hear. He believed that pupils at his school, even if they came from the Indian subcontinent, would be better able to study if they spoke English. For this he was hounded from his profession and vilified as a "racist". Three decades on, the suggestions that brought such vitriol down upon him are the policies of the major parties in all European countries.
At the National Theatre a few weeks after Honeyford's death I watched the opening night of a wonderful show about free expression called Can We Talk About This? (see Anne McElvoy's review on page 70).
A couple of years ago at the outset of his project I encouraged the director to consider highlighting the Honeyford affair among others. The show did so, wittily and concisely, but this vindication comes too late, of course, for Honeyford himself.