12 AUGUST 1972, Page 3

A Spectator's Notebook

New means worse. This occurred to me When taking a taxi through the Covent Garden area a day or two ago. Some of the low market buildings are very pleasant and should not be destroyed. But destroyed, I suppose, they will be; and replaced by something far uglier. The bad, in architecture these days, drives out the good. The amount of destruction and construction that is going on in central London at the moment is appalling, and I do not know whether the destruction is worse than the construction. The whole area needs to be preserved, preserved for Londoners and visitors from the developers, the architects, the property men, the planners. London does not need more office blocks. It needs more people living in its middle. Peter Walker's threats against Centre Point and other such offences are better than nothing. But he needs to remove all central London from the planners and the permitters of the Greater London Council and the London boroughs. A national disaster is taking place; it is staring us in the face; and only the Government can halt the slaughter of the capital city.

Frightening, dangerous

Mr Richard Seifert, architect of Centre Point and other of Mr Hyams's projects, has a dismaying number of further major buildings in the planning and construction stages, according to a terrifying list produced by Mr Jeremy Bugler in the Observer. Seifert is quoted as saying that the public opposition to major developments in cities is " hysterical, frightening and terribly dangerous." It is nothing of the sort. What is frightening and terribly dangerous IS the kind of building Mr Seifert and People like him put up. He says, "Any change now is thought to be wrong and people are talking about 'concrete jungles' Which are absolutely imaginary." But there is nothing imaginary about Mr Seifert's concrete, or Sir Basil Spence's. Concrete is very concrete, and Seifert's concrete is very very concrete.

What thinks the Mirror?

do not doubt that Mr Seifert is capable of designing modest decent buildings. But he is not capable of designing an elegant building, seemly and of a decent human scale, when his brief is to cram as much useable office space as is possible on to a given site. The architects are to blame; but more to blame are the developers; and most to blame are the authorities, local and national, whose ' plans ' and whose Planning permissions enable vast fortunes to be made through the erection of vulgar and ugly buildings for which there is no genuine local or national need. Incidentally, one of the principal developers in the Covent Garden area is the International Publishing Corporation subsidiary of Reed International, which came by a great slice of real estate when the Daily Mirror group gobbled up Odham's Press, at Long Acre. The Daily Mirror is not slow to urge upon the government of the day policies designed, in its view, to serve the national interest. Does the Daily Mirror think that the proposed developments in the Covent Garden area are in the national interest?

Trumpet voluntary

I was glancing through A Reader's Guide to Contemporary History published this week by Weidenfeld and Nicolson at £3.50, which is a rather slight collection of selected and opinionated bibliogfaphies of the modern world. The article on Western Europe is by Richard Mayne, a Eurocrat. From Richard Mayne's article I quote: "The most vivid overall history of Western Europe is perhaps Richard Mayne's The Recovery of Europe (London, 1970), a large part of which is devoted to European unification." Later on: "On the Community institutions, a good brief guide is Richard Mayne's The Institutions. of the European Community (London, 1968)." And at the end of the article, in a selected addenda, what should' crop up but "Europe Tomorrow, ed. Richard Mayne (London 1972), a set of targets." I don't know about Richard Mayne's "vivid overall history" or his "good brief guide," but he has a vivid sense of his own overall worth.

Cooling off-1926

The Government's Industrial Relations Act, whatever one may think about its basic premises and principles, has clearly not worked out in practice as its authors expected. Some members of Parliament have explained this as a consequence of the lack of sufficient time spent debating Its provisions, and this may be so. But the Tories have been thinking about some of its provisions, on and off, for a very long time. A very interesting radio broadcast on Stanley Baldwin, reprinted last year in Personality and Power (BBC Publications, £1.75), contained a striking reminiscence from Lord Swinton. Sir Oswald Mosley had said, "I remember Lloyd George commenting, 'Tranquillity is not a policy, it is a yawn,' and that was followed up by the arrival of Baldwin, who was the yawn personified. He was a man who represented England asleep." At this, Lord Swinton said: "Well he was by nature, I think, indolent and he had a curious way of what we used to call going out of gear when he just didn't seem to register at all what was going on. When the Trades Disputes Bill which the Conservative Government passed late in 1926 was being drafted, Neville Chamberlain came to stay with me at Swinton. And I said to him, Neville look here, I think this is all very negative.

I should like to put into this Bill a provision that if there's to be a strike — you can't stop people striking — but if a strike is threatened which would affect a number of other industries, besides the particular one concerned, that then there should be a sixty days waiting period during which an enquiry could take place and the whole of the facts would be known.' "

Sucking blotting paper

Apparently Chamberlain thought this was a good idea and since he was going to see Baldwin at Astley he said he would press it very strongly. When Lord Swinton next saw Baldwin he asked Baldwin, "Well, what is your reaction to my proposal," and Baldwin replied, "What proposal?" At this Lord Swinton complained to Chamberlain for not having passed the message on. Chamberlain replied to Swinton, "Well, I simply cannot make head or tail of this....J started on to him [Baldwin] when I got there before dinner and argued with him and put it very strongly . . . and his reaction seemed favourable until I saw he had gone out of gear. He started sucking blotting paper."

Anecdotal repository

This is the sort of anecdote which might well have been lost for good, had not the BBC arranged the series of broadcasts in which this exchange was recorded and then had them edited and published. Kingsley Amis remarked to me the other day, when some Evelyn Waugh anecdotage was being exchanged, that there was a very great risk of such literary and political material disappearing for good largely because people no longer kept diaries or wrote each other long letters filled with tittle-tattle. "There ought to be," said Kingsley, "a kind of repository where people can go and leave their anecdotes. There is a very amusing two-volume work called Literary Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century. Somebody should assemble a similar collection for the twentieth century, before it's too late."

Manufactured evidence

Political anecdotes may well disappear almost entirely, for almost all political exchange nowadays is either face to face or by telephone. I suspect that when politicians (and others besides) actually write letters to each other it is because they want something or other put on record; letters may well be in the process of becoming manufactured evidence of what their authors want to be discovered rather than evidence of their authors' true intents and purposes. Of course letters and diaries have frequently in the past been of this character; but not, as I think they may now be becoming, invariably so.

Gower street archive?

If anyone knows any literary, or political, anecdotes which are in danger of becoming lost and which should be preserved, I would be glad to learn of them. We might even start an archive here at 99 Gower Street.