The POW Artists of Changi

Fred Binns in Changi Gaol

My mother’s first husband, Fred Binns, in Changi Gaol, 1943

The painting above depicts my mother’s first husband, Fred Binns, as a Japanese Prisoner-Of-War (POW) in Changi Prison, Singapore, in April 1943. It’s quite astonishing that this painting not only survived Fred’s imprisonment and subsequent liberation, but also that it was inherited from Fred by my mother, and then passed down to me from her.

If the painting could speak, it would surely tell a harrowing tale, of how it was perhaps painted using strips of bamboo and human hair, using tints mixed from different soils, then hidden from confiscation by being placed under the corpses of cholera victims. Despite all that horror, it depicts a joyous scene, showing Fred enthusiastically playing the double bass. If the proportions of the bass seem odd, that’s not due to any lack of skill on the part of the artist. That was in fact the appearance of the real instrument, because Fred had built it himself from scrap wood.

Changi Prison seems to have housed an astonishing concentration of creative talent. As shown above, Fred was himself a keen amateur musician, but there were also many artists in the prison.

Sadly, despite having survived all the horrors of imprisonment in Singapore for 4 years, Fred died prematurely of tuberculosis in 1949. He had contracted what was then usually a fatal disease during his internment, but was not aware of it at the time. By the time he died, he had married my mother, and she caught the disease from him. She was admitted to the ominously-named Killingbeck Sanatorium, and it was only thanks to the development of new “wonder drugs” that she survived at all. Her curative treatment was long and unpleasant, involving the complete collapse of each lung in turn, to rid it of the disease. Nonetheless, she survived the hideous disease that had killed her husband, and was able to resume a healthy life, which eventually included marrying my father and giving birth to me!

Ronald Searle, Des Bettany & Fred Binns

Perhaps the most famous of Fred’s bunkmates in Changi was the artist Ronald Searle. My mother knew that this painting of Fred was not by Searle, but we were not able to identify the actual artist. There is a signature in the corner, but it was too smudged to be readable.

Recently, while researching for this article, I viewed images of artwork by other Changi prisoners via the internet, and was able to match the style, and the color palette, to a man called Des Bettany. Now that I’ve seen Bettany’s signature, it matches that on the painting, so I have finally established the identity of the artist who painted Fred.

Des Bettany went on to have a successful career as a cartoonist, and eventually migrated to Australia, where he taught art, eventually rising to become Acting Principal at the South Australian School of Art in Adelaide.

The Heyday of St Trinians

Searle is probably most famous for having created the fictitious girls’ school St. Trinian’s. The drawing below is the first-ever published “St. Trinian’s” cartoon, although the caption reveals that the girls shown are pupils of an anonymous opposing school.

Searle's First St. Trinian's Cartoon

The first St. Trinian’s cartoon by Ronald Searle, 1941. Copyright © Estate of Ronald Searle

Searle had drawn the cartoon before leaving England, but it wasn’t actually published until late 1941, when Searle saw it in Lilliput magazine while fighting on the streets of Singapore!

Although Searle’s invention of St. Trinian’s predated his wartime experiences, he did use some of those cruel experiences as inspiration for his subsequent cartoons. For example, there is a St. Trinian’s cartoon titled “Bloody Sportsdays…”, which depicts the girls being forced to pull a roller to flatten grass. This was adapted from Searle’s wartime sketch “Light Duties for Sick Men”, which showed prisoners being forced to haul trees for land-clearing, during 1944.

By the early 1950s, the St. Trinians’ cartoons had become so popular that they became the basis for a series of movies (The Belles of St. Trinian’s, Blue Murder at St Trinian’s, The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s, and The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery). In most of the movies, the headmistress of the school (Miss Fritton) is played by Alastair Sim, who also plays the headmistress’ brother! One of my favorite Sim quotations from the first movie sums up the ethos of the school:

In other schools girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared.

Even in modern times, movies in the St. Trinian’s genre continue to be produced, although it must be said that the themes seem increasingly anachronistic.

The image below shows the publicity poster for the latest St. Trinian’s movie, The Legend of Fritton’s Gold (2009). Incidentally, the actor in the center, who played head girl Annabelle Fritton in the movie, is Talulah Riley, who is in reality the ex-wife of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

[Postscript 8/15/20: What a coincidence. I just discovered that Talulah Riley’s grandfather was also at Changi, as she mentions in this Twitter post:]

Poster for Movie: The Legend of Fritton's Gold

Publicity Poster for the Movie: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold

If you are interested in more details of Ronald Searle’s life, there is an excellent biography by Russell Davies. Further details of Des Bettany’s life can be found here. For details of the life of Fred Binns, however, I’m afraid that it seems you’ll have to rely on me!

I feel truly privileged to have inherited such a unique and wonderful piece of artwork, but also very glad that I never had to endure any of the horrors that led to its creation!

For more details of the POW artists in Changi, see [Update 11/20/20: Des Bettany’s son, Keith, asked me for permission to post the artwork on the Changi POW web site, and of course I granted that. The page can be viewed at:].

Fred Binns in Changi Gaol

My mother’s first husband, Fred Binns, in Changi Gaol, 1943

Michael Palin Interview: Out-Takes

In an earlier post, I described some thought-provoking comments about the Monty Python movie “The Life of Brian” that Michael Palin made to me during my student TV video interview with him, back in 1983.

Recently, I’ve been reformatting an ancient video recording of that interview. The entire interview is over 30 minutes in length, and some of it has become quite outdated. Nonetheless, there are some sections that could still be relevant.

For this post, I decided to edit together some of the clips that did not make it into the interview. These were “out-takes”, in which something went wrong (intentionally or otherwise!) during the shot. I can’t honestly say that these have never before been broadcast, because most of them were actually included in the Student TV’s annual “bloopers” program that was screened just before Christmas. Anyway, they’re still quite funny, after all this time.

The content of the clips probably speaks for itself, but I should perhaps explain why the shots appear the way that they do. The interview was an “outside broadcast” for us, so we took along only one camera (because in those days when camcorders were new technology, we had only one portable camera). Therefore, to shoot the main interview, we locked off the camera pointing at Michael, and recorded the entire session like that. That’s why, in most of the video, you can only see him, and hear me talking to him in the background.

Once the main interview had been recorded, we moved the camera to an over-the-shoulder shot of the two of us, then recorded some video of that for cutaways, which would be edited into the main tape.

Finally, after Michael left, we moved the camera to point at me, and recorded all my questions and reactions again, with me facing an empty chair.

I must apologize again for the poor video quality, due to the number of format conversions that this recording has undergone over the years. It’s worse in this case because some of the video was recorded during setup, so the camera is shaking around and there are even color bars over some of it. Nonetheless, I think it’s still sufficiently funny to be worth viewing.

The photo below is the best-quality shot that I have remaining from that occasion, because it’s a professional publicity shot of Michael Palin.

Michael Palin Publicity Photo c.1983


Pallab and the Wide-Mouthed Frog

As I described in an earlier post, I first met Pallab Ghosh when we were both undergraduates at Imperial College, London. Pallab later went on to have a distinguished career in science journalism, becoming a major BBC Science Correspondent.

In 1983, Pallab asked me to create a fantasy portrait of him, to be used as a poster for his campaign for election as Editor of the Imperial College student newspaper, Felix. My portrait of him is reproduced again below. Pallab duly won that election.

Pallab Ghosh as "Super-Ed" (Superman)

Pallab Ghosh as “Super-Ed” (Superman)

Even before becoming Editor of the student newspaper, Pallab had gained a reputation in the college for telling one particular joke, “The Wide-Mouthed Frog”. He didn’t create the joke, which was already in circulation when I was at school, but there was something about “the way he told it”!

Recently, I unearthed a VHS videotape that was an off-air recording of one of the news shows broadcast by Student Television of Imperial College (STOIC). This edition included an interview that I had just recorded with Pallab in the TV studio.

I apologise here for the poor video quality of the clip, and for the crude jump-cut. In the early part of the interview, we discussed Pallab’s predecessor as Felix Editor, and his plans for the publication, which are unlikely to be of much interest after all this time! Thus I removed those portions of the recording.


A Tribute to Graham Roberts

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

“I’m not a Yorkshireman, but I play one on the radio.” For several decades, that could have been the motto of actor Graham Roberts, shown on the left in the 1975 photo above. Continuing the Yorkshire theme of my previous post, I’m taking the opportunity to pay a small tribute to one of the most amiable men I ever met. My friendship with Graham also had a significant, if perhaps unanticipated, influence on the direction of my own life.

The photo was taken by my father during a visit to Graham’s home in Leeds. Yes, that’s me to the right of Graham, with full 1970s “mop” haircut! To the far right is Graham’s wife, singer Yvonne Robert.

For an astonishing 31 years (1973-2004), Graham played the character of George Barford on the BBC radio soap opera The Archers. That show was first broadcast on radio in 1950—initially as a way for the Ministry of Agriculture to educate farmers, it seems!—and is still running today.

Graham was born in Chester, and studied in Manchester, but he had an excellent ear for accents and dialects, so he probably had little difficulty picking up the Yorkshire accent he needed for his role in the Archers. Living in Leeds, he heard it all around him every day.

During the 1970s, vocal impersonations were a popular form of comedy (bringing fame to Mike Yarwood and featuring on TV shows such as “The Impressionists”), so Graham and I spent much of our time inventing silly names and speaking to each other in a variety of outlandish voices!

A Day that Shaped the Rest of my Life

I met Graham during the 1970s, when, in addition to his Archers role, he had a regular job as a Continuity Announcer for Yorkshire Television. In those days, it was deemed necessary for each TV channel to have a live announcer, who would welcome viewers and announce programs. The announcer was also expected to handle occasional technical emergencies that could occur during broadcasting. I’m sure that Graham found that job quite mundane, but it was regular and reliable employment, which is a relatively unusual benefit for those in the acting profession. Graham is listed as one of the station’s “Former Announcers” on the Wikipedia page.

One day, Graham took me with him to his announcer job at Yorkshire Television’s studios in Leeds. For me, this was an introduction to a whole new world, which had seemed completely inaccessible until then.

Some years later, that one day’s experience would lead (via a contorted path that I’ll describe in other posts) to my decision to try to become a video engineer. To that end, I obtained an electronics degree, and eventually secured a broadcast engineering job at the BBC. I doubt that I would ever have embarked on that career path, had it not been for Graham’s perhaps unintended prompt.

The Unrecognized Celebrity

Strangely, although Graham’s voice was heard on the airwaves of Britain for many decades, both on TV and on radio, he rarely appeared in vision, so he usually went unrecognized in public. This gave him the advantage of being able to go about his life without being pestered by the autograph-seekers and celebrity-followers who would otherwise no doubt have hounded him.

Outstanding Empathy

For me, Graham’s most remarkable quality was his outstanding empathy for others. It seemed that, whatever you were interested in, Graham could take an interest in it too.

It was all quite genuine and I don’t think Graham could have faked that ability. I’m sure we all know that, if you’re not interested in something, it’s very difficult to give the consistent impression that you are.

Were it not for Graham’s influence, I almost certainly would not be doing what I do today, nor probably living where I live today. I feel very fortunate to have met him and been able to spend some enjoyable times with him.

Sadly, Graham passed away in 2004, and there were many fascinating obituaries, of which two can be read here and here.

Moggies Cartoon: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

This was the first “Moggies” cartoon that I created for display at the Sonoma County Fair. It seems like an appropriate time of year to post this episode!

I already posted the other two Moggies cartoons (Pure Water and Royal Blood). As you’ll have noticed, this first example was not in color. When I began producing comic illustrations about 30 years ago (long before this cartoon, of course), monochrome artwork was still very common, due to limitations of the printing processes. Now, however, there’s rarely a need to print only in monochrome, even in newspapers.


Architectural Redevelopment: Vandalism or Progress?

St. Pancras International Station, London, 2010

St. Pancras International Station, London, 2010

In 2010, I visited a spectacularly transformed St. Pancras Station in London, for the first time since I had lived in the city. In the photograph (below) taken during a 1981 visit, St. Pancras was a dowdy, run-down relic, the only possible future for which seemed to be closure and demolition.

St. Pancras Station, 1981

St. Pancras Station, 1981

But, thankfully, it was not to be, partly due to the efforts of one man, and instead, the huge Victorian edifice was not only saved, but was transformed into the impressive, functional St. Pancras International Station. The photograph below shows the beautiful and airy interior of the trainshed of St. Pancras International, on a day when a German ICE train was visiting to promote future usage of the station by DB.

Interior of St. Pancras International Station, 2010

Interior of St. Pancras International Station, 2010

Although the redevelopment of St. Pancras is one of the most internationally famous triumphs of architectural rehabilitation, there have been many other examples of success and failure.

Yesterday, someone posted on the Facebook page of my alma mater, Imperial College, a photograph of the Imperial Institute, which was a predecessor building in South Kensington, the site of which is now occupied by Imperial College. That reminded me of the many heated battles that have occurred during my lifetime over architecture, and the demolition or redevelopment of buildings. In the past, the usual result was demolition, but, during the past twenty years or so, more enlightened thinking has prevailed, resulting in such wonderful renovations as St. Pancras.

During the 1960s (long before I became a university student), the Imperial Institute building was the focus of a heated dispute between those who wanted to demolish the Victorian edifice completely, and those who wanted to preserve it.

The redevelopers of the Imperial College campus wanted to sweep away all the Victorian architecture and replace it with what they considered to be modern and functional structures.

However, an organization called the Victorian Society, led by the poet Sir John Betjeman, fought for the preservation of Victorian architecture, and became particularly involved in the Imperial College plans. Although they were not able to save everything, the Victorian Society won a partial victory in that case, and managed to force the developers to retain the central tower of the Imperial Institute, which, as a freestanding building, was renamed the Queens Tower, as shown in my 1981 photograph below.

Queens Tower, Imperial College, in snow, 1981

Queens Tower, Imperial College, in snow, 1981

Now, whenever anyone needs a general photograph of “Imperial College”, you can be fairly certain that they’ll choose a view that includes the Queen’s Tower. The sad reality is that most of Imperial College’s modern architecture has very little character, and the Queen’s Tower has become a de facto icon of the college. (Incidentally, the tower is not the only pre-1960s architecture remaining on the Imperial College campus. For example, the original City & Guilds College building still survives on Prince Consort Road. However, that structure is relatively undistinguished and squat, as you can see in this current Google Streetview.)

I must admit that, while a student at Imperial College, I myself was responsible for heaping further derision on the Queens Tower. As part of a spoof Felix article about the stationing of US troops within Imperial College, I contributed the illustration below, showing how the Queen’s Tower was to be converted into a launch platform for cruise missiles! (“Felix” was and still is the Imperial College student newspaper, tracing its roots back to the days when H G Wells was a student at the college.)

Queens Tower Missile Installation, 1983

Queens Tower Missile Installation, 1983

Betjeman and the Victorian Society were also instrumental in frustrating plans for the demolition of St. Pancras Station, which preserved the building for its eventual renovation. Appropriately, Betjeman’s contribution has been commemorated with a statue of him on the platform at St. Pancras, as shown below.

Statue of Sir John Betjeman at St. Pancras International Station

Statue of Sir John Betjeman at St. Pancras International Station

Personally, I don’t regard “high Victorian” architecture as being the epitome of good taste, but surely it is preferable to characterless, badly-constructed concrete boxes that replaced so much of it.

In a previous post, I showed how the architecture of Scarborough Central Station was redeveloped from the simple neoclassical design of 1845, to the ornate high-Victorian “wedding cake” that still survives today.

Moggies Cartoon: Pure Water

Moggies: Pure Water

Moggies: Pure Water

Here is the second Moggies cartoon, which I originally produced for display at Sonoma County Fair.

The theme of this strip seemed to ring a bell with many cat owners!

I already posted one of the three Moggies cartoons that I’ve produced to date. The third has an Independence Day theme, so I’ll post that closer to the actual day!

Which David Hodgson is Which?


Mystery Escapologist

When it came time for me to select a URL for my personal blog, I had to select the name I would use from whatever was available. There are, of course, many people in the world named “David Hodgson”, so it would be naïve to assume that I’d be the only David Hodgson with an internet presence.

I searched through web sites mentioning “David Hodgson”, and I was enlightened, amused and even appalled by what I found. I found several artists, a vicar, and even a murderer. Some of these sites are blogs, but some are not. I’m listing these URLs here in the hope that it will help you to avoid confusing me with all these other David Hodgsons!

All the URLs listed here are real web sites, and I am not in any way responsible for their content. So, if you want to complain, then please don’t “shoot the messenger”!

The following David Hodgsons are definitely not me

The fact that it’s now quite easy to set up a blog, and that it can be done free of charge, means that inevitably you will encounter some bad blogs. A similar situation occurred back in the 1980s when “desktop publishing” was the new fad; at that time I saw flyers that used twenty or more different typefaces on the same page! Nonetheless, the bad examples eventually fell by the wayside, and desktop publishing is now well-established. In the end, desktop publishing didn’t fail just because some of its early adoptees didn’t know what they were doing. I suspect that the same will be true for blogging, and indeed for ePublishing in general.

One of the features of blogs that you notice when you start examining them is that some people seem to start a blog with unbounded enthusiasm, then realize only later that they don’t really have much to say. My advice is to be realistic; if you’re not already someone who posts regularly on social media and elsewhere, then you almost certainly don’t need a blog, because you’ll never actually post to it.

Then there are those sites that seem to be “their own worst enemy”. I received a communication from one blogger whose site is titled “Five Experts”, and which seems to offer advice to fellow bloggers as to how to attract more followers. Unfortunately, though, I was not inspired by the content. For example, here’s a description of the site:

“We are five profitionels, we creat a small business. a parte of owr work is to help you creat your’s”

Erm… no thanks. Anyway, I already creat mine’s…

David Hodgson: the Previous Incarnation

You really do learn something new every day! I had never previously realized that there was a British artist named David Hodgson, who lived in East Anglia from 1798-1864. He seems to be best known for his paintings of the Norwich area.

David Hodgson: the Vicar of Wokingham (aliases to:

This is the blog of a vicar in Wokingham, UK. Coincidentally, Wokingham is where I worked for about a year before emigrating to California, but I assure you that there’s no other connection between us.

Most of the posts seem to be just links to other church business postings. However, towards the end of last year, the Reverend apparently received inspiration to start posting for Advent. He explained, “My blog for each day in Advent will celebrate examples of action in the world inspired by hope and the desire to bring closer God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice.”

Unfortunately, he stopped posting after 7 days (on 3rd December), without offering any reason. It seems that the Holy Spirit gave up the ghost at that point.

David Hodgson: the Invisible Insolvency Expert

This site does not seem to be stable, and is currently not accessible. When it was accessible, it claimed to be the web site of “David G Hodgson, Insolvency and credit management consultant, Leeds, UK”.

Perhaps insolvency expert David G Hodgson didn’t pay his web hosting bill?

David Hodgson: the Word-Salad Maestro

I must admit that this David Hodgson is the one that perhaps could be most easily confused with me, given that we apparently both graduated from the same university, and both worked for Sony at some time.

I was trying to find a word or phrase to summarize what David does. Based on his own descriptions, I can’t, although I must admit that I’m impressed with his “word salad”. If he wants to add more of the same, then perhaps the Deepak Chopra Quote Generator would be helpful?

David is the CEO of Hummingbird Labs, but the web site of that business consists of nothing but a nice picture of a tree in a field: The page used to include a logo of a hummingbird with its beak missing, but that’s gone now.

David Hodgson: the Model

I’ve drawn many models over the years, but I was never a model myself.

David Hodgson: the US Graphic Designer

No problems here; it’s simply a competently-presented gallery of his graphics work.

David Hodgson: the Blogger Who’s Cutting through the Crap

In October 2013, this David Hodgson felt called upon to start a blog to tell the world his opinions of “Magnetic Water Softeners”.

He ended his first post by describing an experiment he was conducting, stating, “I will post with the results in about 30 days and let you know what I have found out.”

But he never did post those results, and apparently that first post was all he had to say. About anything. Ever.

The subtitle of his blog is “Cutting Through the Crap”. Apparently, that David Hodgson cut through so much crap that he left himself with nothing more to say.

David Hodgson: the Other Artist from Leeds

David Hodgson: the Video Game Commentator

David Hodgson: the Murderer

I repeat that this is definitely not me!

David Hodgson: the New One-Shot Blogger

Apparently this blog is so new that most of its pages have been removed… This David Hodgson also states that he’s a graphic artist, but the web site displays only one example of his work (or at least I assume that it’s his, because it’s not signed).

Hopefully the information above, covering many of the David Hodgsons who are not me, will help you identify the real me in future.

The Salesman and the Programmer: Poem

incompatiblepcsnewMore than twenty years ago now, I had to upgrade one of my PCs from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. What I’d been promised would be a painless improvement turned out to be a very frustrating experience. However, rather than simmering about it, I was inspired to write the humorous poem below.

I must make it clear that this is intended as a satirical parody. I am not suggesting that the introduction of Windows 95 (or any other operating system) was really a deliberate plot to break anyone’s computer, and I have no evidence to support such a notion!

For product sales, the problem was
Computers were too cheap:
The software was reliable;
The learning curve not steep;
And Windows Three was so well known
Folk used it in their sleep!

The Salesman and the Programmer
Were walking hand in hand.
They were trying to make a new program
To sell throughout the land.
“If we could find a killer app,”
The Salesman said, “That would be grand.”

“We used to make a lot of cash,”
The Salesman said with glee,
“When software was such complex stuff
And our knowledge was the key.
But now it’s all such bug-free fluff,
And Tech Support is free!”

“If we could make them change their files,”
The Programmer began,
“They’d have to learn a new OS —
Oh, what a marv’lous plan!
If we could make it look the same
But so a diff’rent program ran.”

The Programmer, he saw a catch
They’d have to overcome.
“But how could we convince them all?
Who’d ever be so dumb?”
The Salesman smiled, and quietly said,
“Oh — almost everyone.”

And so they built a new OS:
Another type of GUI.
They called it “Windows 95”
And began to spout the hooey.
But who would risk this untried scheme?
Who would be so screwy?

So they showed it off as something great,
To make society better.
They claimed it was a vital tool
For every young go-getter.
They asked us “Where we’d go today”
In papers and newsletters.

For those that were more cautious,
Those that weren’t such mugs,
They told us that it worked just fine,
Between the product plugs.
One million beta testers had been set
To find those minor bugs.

They spent a mound of money
On publicity and display,
And people rushed out lemming-like
To buy it that first day.
What we really should have listened to
Was what they failed to say.

They told us that they’d tested it,
On every kind of system.
They’d questioned all the User Groups
(They’d made a vow to listen.)
Those beta testers found the bugs,
But they didn’t say they’d fixed ‘em!

I didn’t want to buy the thing —
I wasn’t taken in.
My own machine had worked just fine —
It was my main linchpin.
With Windows Three-Point-One, NT,
And lots of RAM therein.

But my client wanted me to try
To change their new software.
“It must be Windows 95!”
They called me to declare.
So I went and bought the CD-ROM,
Which was the start of my nightmare!

And so I ran the setup files,
To install Ninety-five.
My system paused, and beeped, and stopped:
It wouldn’t come alive!
I couldn’t get the thing to run,
No matter how I’d strive.

So I called —

The Salesman and the Programmer:
I asked them what was wrong.
They told me that they’d find a fix —
It wouldn’t take too long.
And until then, I’d work around:
That’s how I got along.

And so, at length, they called me back,
Which brightened my demean’.
The Programmer had checked their code:
He claimed it was pristine —
“There’s nothing wrong with our software:
It must be your machine.”

I told them it had worked for years,
And never had “gone down”,
With every other program known
And all the gear around.
“Well there’s something there that we can’t fix,”
He said, “You break it down.”

The Salesman and the Programmer,
Were happy with their game.
Saw new computers selling fast,
And that had been their aim.
“We’ve stopped your system working now,
And you can take the blame!”

My poem is, of course, a parody of Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, but in fact Carroll’s poem was itself an adaptation of an earlier work; “The Dream of Eugene Aram” by Thomas Hood.