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Image copyright Sony/Pennie Smith/Ray Lowry
Image caption London Calling was released in the UK on 14 December 1979 and in the US the following month

Forty years ago, The Clash’s iconic album London Calling and its equally famous record cover featuring Pennie Smith’s image of the demise of a bass guitar, appeared in record stores across the UK.

“That bass crashed down and I just thought ‘well there’s a problem’ – The Clash never ever smashed anything – they couldn’t afford to.”

Johnny Green was at the side of a New York stage on 20 September 1979 as bassist Paul Simonon furiously plunged his instrument to the floor.

“When he started to do this move I nipped on there and said ‘what’s up Paul?’ and his response, rather eloquently, was ‘eff off Johnny’.”

The move, which Simonon would later reveal was the result of the audience not being allowed to stand up and dance, was captured by Smith. It would go on to become the front cover of one of the most revered records ever made.

Image copyright RCA Victor/William V. “Red” Robertson/Samuel Lowry
Image caption Designer Ray Lowry based London Calling’s album cover on Elvis Presley’s debut record

Since being released as a double album, London Calling has sold more than five million copies and influenced countless people.

But as Simonon, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Topper Headon began the record, things weren’t looking too rosy.

“It all seemed washed up to be honest, and that’s the story of London Calling,” explains Green, who was the band’s road manager and one of the few people who saw the record take shape first hand.

The punk rockers had lost their manager along with their original Camden studio. Their record company had also lost interest in the band and songwriters Strummer and Jones were experiencing a lengthy period of writer’s block.

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Media captionListen to photographer Pennie Smith tell BBC Radio London how she captured the iconic image of Paul Simonon

However, a US tour in early 1979 with the likes of rock and roll veteran Bo Diddley along with the discovery of a new base in Pimlico led to a flurry of creativity.

“They still had something to say and they wanted to say it… so I found this garage in Causton Street, down near Vauxhall Bridge. It was a place where they resprayed expensive cars – dodgy Maltese men in camelhair coats – but it had this lovely room, big and long,” Green said.

Influenced by the music they had heard abroad, the band began working “10 hours a day, seven days a week, for three months”, successfully incorporating elements of reggae, rockabilly and ska.

Image copyright Pennie Smith
Image caption Pennie Smith photographed the band at Wessex Studios during one of the quieter moments

As the fragmentary songs took shape, The Clash relocated to Wessex Studios in Highbury and employed maverick producer Guy Stevens, a man who had a unique method to inspire the punks.

“He’d pile chairs up in a stack and just run at them and knock them over as somebody was playing a guitar lick. I remember him getting a ladder one time and whirling it round and nearly knocking people’s heads off,” said Green.

“He was a wilder rock and roller than most musicians to be honest… there were times when I had to carry him out of that studio unconscious and into a minicab.”

Following the last-minute recording of final track Train In Vain – a song created so late there was not even time to include it on the artwork – the band headed off for another US tour, where the image for the album cover was taken.

Image caption Other photos of Simonon taken by Pennie Smith featured on a rare London Calling songbook

It was on the stage where many first encountered The Clash.

“They were a real force live,” said singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg. “It was always one of those gigs where you leave with your voice hoarse and ears ringing. The release of energy was just phenomenal.”

However, for Bragg what the band had to say was just as important as how they played it.

Take the title track. These days it’s used for everything from match-day anthems for Arsenal and Fulham football clubs, to a soundtrack for London on numerous TV shows and films – from Friends to James Bond.

Yet it is in fact a dystopian tale inspired by a news report about how much of the city would be underwater if the River Thames flooded. The lyrics also refer to issues including nuclear disaster, environmentalism, drug abuse and police violence.

Image caption London Calling’s lyrics recently appeared on posters across London as part of an advertising campaign

The political nature of the album inspired Bragg, along with many others, “to go out and do it for ourselves”.

According to Bragg: “If it wasn’t for The Clash and their political sensibilities, punk would have just been a haircut and bondage trousers and not a movement.

“For me they were the last great ‘music can change the world’ band and London Calling was their zenith.”

Image caption Billy Bragg said he “wouldn’t be doing my job” had it not been for bands like The Clash

Given that The Clash explored genres other than punk rock for the record, it’s perhaps unsurprising that London Calling didn’t just inspire guitar bands.

Rapper M.I.A. has spoken about how important the band were for her growing up and references the record in her 2003 single Galang. She also sampled The Clash on arguably her most famous track, Paper Planes.

Across the Atlantic, the band have also been influential. Chuck D of hip-hop legends Public Enemy describes London Calling as “one of the greatest albums ever made”, explaining how the four punks “taught us to fight for what really matters – and to do it as loud as hell”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rapper M.I.A. has described The Clash as a major inspiration for her music

Train In Vain may have been the track that broke The Clash in the US but it was another that caught the attention of Canadian artist Robert Gordon McHarg III.

“Clampdown changed my life. It was a real message to me,” he said.

The song, which Strummer initially claimed was about stringent car parking regulations, explores the dangers of an oppressive political system. Its message remains powerful for many, including former US Democrat presidential nominee Beto O’Rourke who quoted the lyrics during a political debate.

Image caption Simonon’s smashed bass has taken centre stage at a Museum of London exhibition

McHarg has co-curated an exhibition at the Museum of London exploring the background of the record and the impact it has had across the globe.

The Canadian believes part of the reason for its continued success is because it is a “global album”. He points out that “London calling” was the identifier used by the BBC World Service when broadcasting across Europe during World War Two.

“These guys were drawing it back to the BBC and how the phrase London calling was announced. The record is a call to the world, a global shout-out.

“I lived in Canada and I heard it,” McHarg said.

Image copyright Hannah Kanik
Image caption Hannah Kanik rates London Calling as one of her favourite albums

And the record continues to win over fans across the world.

Hannah Kanik, a student at the University of Oregon, said she first “truly listened” to London Calling during her first year of college, having heard it a lot while growing up.

“I listened to the album as a sort of connection back to my family and home life. Now, years later when I listen to it, the record reminds me of my first taste of independence and figuring out how to be my own person and live on my own.”

The 21-year-old, who is from Sacramento, California, considers it among her favourite albums and believes it to be “timeless”.

“A lot of the themes in the album, like struggling to find yourself or live up to society’s expectations for you, are still very relevant today,” she said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Johnny Green co-wrote a book about his time with The Clash called A Riot of Our Own

The man who was there from the beginning said he was surprised both the record and the band remained so popular.

“The Clash exploded like the best firework display you’ve ever seen in your life… it completely mesmerised you and then it was gone,” Green said.

“It really did reach the corners of the world but it’s hard to think that would be the case back when we were making London Calling.”

The Clash: London Calling is at the Museum of London until 19 April 2020

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“Do we really need 27 scene changes? Do we need cars hanging from the ceiling?”

It might not be an obvious question for Katy Perry’s agent to be raising, but it’s one Emma Banks, who co-founded the UK arm of one of the world’s biggest music tour agents, is increasingly having to ask.

She says your favourite artist’s tours can have up to 60 trucks moving equipment all over the world.

And she says musicians “have to be proactive” about the impact tours like that have on the environment.

“The more shows you have, the more environmental impact it has.

“We need to think more about how we can actually not create the problem in the first place,” Emma tells BBC Music Introducing’s Does My Music Suck? podcast.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Emma Banks was given the prestigious Music Industry Trusts Award for her 25 years of contribution to the music industry

As well as Katy Perry, Emma’s roster at the Creative Artists Agency ranges from other female superstars like Lorde and Kylie to some of the biggest bands on the planet – including Arcade Fire, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and Muse.

At any given moment it’s likely one of those artists is on a world tour – flying around the world playing to thousands of fans every night.

Emma’s never had an act turn down a world tour because of its impact on the environment but hopes that will change soon.

As fans become more conscious of their impact on the planet, there’s more pressure on artists to show that they care about the impact they’re having too.

“Everybody, unless you’re under a rock, is bombarded by [climate change] on the TV, on the news, in the newspapers… people are talking about it.

“We have to be proactive.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Emma says transporting huge arena shows around the world is having a big impact on the environment

Emma admits “change will be gradual” but says “every little helps”.

“If everyone that’s doing a huge tour cut five trucks, that would make an impact.

“It’s not going to make as much impact as if you didn’t have any trucks, but we can’t go and watch people in the dark with no microphones. That’s not going to work.”

Emma says she’s discussed the environmental cost of touring with lots of her acts – and recognises finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint “is a really tricky one”.

“While I certainly don’t want to be putting anybody out of business, I think we have to start being realistic and going, ‘OK, let’s just dial it down a bit’.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ed Sheeran just completed a record-breaking tour that began in 2017 – but his shows are less elaborate than some

Although it’s difficult to calculate the exact impact of each individual tour, a 2016 report on the impact of live music events suggested the UK festival scene produced 19,778 tonnes of carbon emissions every year – excluding the travel of artists and fans.

In comparison, football tournament Euro 2016 is reported to have produced a total on 2.8m tonnes, including travel of fans and players.

It’s also been suggested that private jets, which many artists use to keep up with their hectic tour schedules, burn 40 times as much carbon per passenger as regular commercial flights.

Some artists have announced plans to reduce the impact of their tours.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Billie Eilish has introduced schemes to reduce the environmental impact of her upcoming world tour

The 1975’s label Dirty Hit will donate £1 from every ticket they sell to One Tree Planted, a non-profit organisation that plants trees all over the world.

Billie Eilish is banning plastic straws and offering fans a chance to win tickets by fighting climate change.

The singer has also announced a Billie Eilish Eco-Village at each show – an area where fans can learn about climate change and the importance of making a difference.

Emma was speaking to Rob Adcock on BBC Music Introducing’s podcast Does My Music Suck?

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A Christmas tree that was chopped down outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House this weekend “will be replaced soon”, the corporation has said.

The 7m (20ft) tree was put up outside the building in central London on 30 November.

However, staff pictured the tree being destroyed by maintenance workers on Saturday.

A BBC spokesman said the tree had been removed “due to activity on the piazza” in the week of the general election.

The exit poll and the election result will be projected on to Broadcasting House after polls close on Thursday.

Live music performances for the weekday programme, The One Show, are also filmed in the piazza.

Alice Bortolotto, 31, who manages nearby coffee house Caffè Nero said it was “sad” the tree had gone.

“We love to see the tree every year when they put it up,” she said.

“On Saturday, when I came in and didn’t see it, I felt a bit like, ‘Where’s Christmas gone?'”

BBC Africa editor Will Ross posted a picture of the tree being chopped up, suggesting the tree “has had a traumatic day at the barbers”.

An artificial tree remains inside the building’s main foyer.

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New York (CNN Business)Holiday gifts are meant to be fun, but security researchers say some presents can be downright creepy.

Safety and privacy have increasingly come into focus as internet-connected devices continue to become popular and infiltrate people’s houses. Several top tech companies, including Amazon (AMZN), Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) have come under scrutiny for monitoring users’ information.
To receive Mozilla’s minimum security standard badge, the products must use encryption, have automatic security updates, enact bug bounty programs to help report vulnerabilities and require users to change the default password.
    Here are the products that didn’t meet Mozilla’s minimum security standards … and the two that scored the highest:

    Ring devices

    Three popular Ring devices failed to meet Mozilla’s minimum security standards, including the Ring video doorbell, indoor cam and security cams.
    Mozilla said the company doesn’t have a “great track record for securing customer data or hiring experienced security engineers,” and the researchers couldn’t determine if Ring’s products use secure encryption. Mozilla also said that Ring’s search for a “head of facial recognition research” contradicts the company’s claim that it doesn’t use the technology.
    “All in all, this is a security video camera that raises just too many questions about privacy and security, in our opinion,” Mozilla said in a statement.
    In response, Ring, which is owned by Amazon (AMZN), said in a statement it “takes customer security seriously and we have experienced, full teams dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of our products and systems.”

    Wemo Wifi Smart Dimmer

    The $60 smart dimmer didn’t pass minimum security standards because Mozilla couldn’t determine how secure and private the product was.
    “Security researchers discovered that the Belkin Wemo Insight Smart Plug is still at risk for attack even though security vulnerabilities had been identified and disclosed over a year ago,” Mozilla researchers said, adding that it could affect the entire line of Wemo smart home devices.

    Artie 3000 Coding Robot

    The $63 toy robot teaches kids to code. The robot has built-in Wi-Fi and Mozilla wasn’t able to tell if the data sent between the app and the robot was encrypted. The lack of security was alarming for a children’s product.

    PetChatz HD

    The $330 dog camera, which includes a scent diffuser, has a weird privacy policy that doesn’t apply to the device — only its website.
    “And while unlikely, it’s possible some terrible person could hack in, diffuse your pet’s aromatherapy scents in the middle of the night causing a sneezing fit which leads to insomnia which causes you to fall asleep at the wheel on your way to work the next morning and you wreck your car,” Mozilla said in a statement.

    Litter Robot 3 Connect

    Yes, you can buy a $500 cat litter box that automatically scoops poop. Mozilla warned buyers that you can’t change the password when the device connects to Wi-Fi.

    OurPets SmartScoop Intelligent Litter Box

    A cheaper $100 litter box failed several of Mozilla’s security requirements, including encryption and installing automatic security updates.

    Top scorers

    Mozilla called the popular Nintendo Switch gaming system a “good guy” for emphasizing “easy-to-use parental controls.”
    Although Nintendo doesn’t share user data with third parties, some third-party games for the Switch “might be collecting and sharing your data.”
      And Mozilla said the The Sonos One SL speaker received high marks because it doesn’t have a microphone.
      “To think, a speaker simply built to play music and not listen to you all day long. Crazy!,” Mozilla said in a statement.

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      (CNN)We may now know why Taylor Swift is only making a few US stops during her 2020 tour.

      “This is a year where I have to be there for my family — there’s a lot of question marks throughout the next year, so I wanted to make sure that I could go home,” she said.
      Swift could be referring to her mother, Andrea Swift’s, cancer diagnosis. which the superstar revealed in an essay she wrote for Elle magazine published in March.
        “Both of my parents have had cancer, and my mom is now fighting her battle with it again,” she wrote. “It’s taught me that there are real problems and then there’s everything else. My mom’s cancer is a real problem.”
        Swift’s 2020 “Lover” concert and festival tour mostly hits Europe, but has stops in New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Foxborough, Massachusetts.
        The Grammy-winning artist said she also plans to rerecord some of her hits next year when she’s contractually able to.
        Swift has been engaged in a battle with Scott Borchetta, the head of her former label, Big Machine Records and Scooter Braun, the mogul who acquired her pre-“Lover” master recordings from the label in June.
        Rerecording her old songs is part of how Swift has said she plans on dealing with what she has called the “worst-case scenario” of Braun’s Ithaca Holdings acquiring the rights to her first six albums.
          There’s no timetable yet on how long that will take, Swift said. “I don’t know!,” she told Billboard. “But it’s going to be fun, because it’ll feel like regaining a freedom and taking back what’s mine.”
          Swift also promises that she will continue her activism to protect the rights of creatives in the music industry. “New artists and producers and writers need work, and they need to be likable and get booked in sessions, and they can’t make noise — but if I can, then I’m going to,” she said.

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          Image copyright Getty Images/Eva Pentel

          Stormzy, AJ Tracey, JME, Akala, Novelist, Yizzy.

          Not the feature list for Pow 2019 – although it would be quite a line-up. Those are just a few of the grime artists who, ahead of the last general election, came out in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

          They sent tweets urging their fans to vote for the Labour leader and some later performed at events run by the campaign group Grime 4 Corbyn.

          But head to in 2019 and you’ll find that there’s no website under that address. And you can count the group’s social media posts from this year on one hand.

          It’s hard to say what effect the support of grime MCs had in 2017, but some credit them with getting more young people engaged with politics. Although there are doubts over whether or not there actually was a higher voter turnout among young people.

          Now, two years later we’re facing another election – but with seemingly a lot less noise coming from MCs on social media.

          ‘We can’t dictate the trends’

          Back in 2017, support for the Labour leader seemed organic.

          The Grime 4 Corbyn group was set up after tweets like that. But we’ve been given conflicting information about whether they’ll be involved in this election.

          UK Grime, which helped put on the Grime 4 Corbyn events in 2017, said yesterday it’s looking for venues for a new event but admitted Grime 4 Corbyn has “fizzled out”.

          “We’re bringing it back,” says Nathan Sealey from UK Grime.

          “People are still interested in grime, and people are still interested in engaging with politics. It’s up to us to put the work in and create that buzz again this time around.”

          But last week we were told Grime 4 Corbyn was stepping aside for a separate group that formed earlier this year when Boris Johnson became prime minister.

          “What young people are talking about now is different,” Adam Cooper, from Grime 4 Corbyn, told Radio 1 Newsbeat.

          “Part of it is about what’s new. Jeremy Corbyn was new. Boris Johnson is new – and a particularly unlikable character.”

          The female-led FCK Boris group held a “street festival” protest outside Downing Street on Boris Johnson’s first day in charge

          They’ve since been helping people around the UK put on DIY parties with the aim of getting young people to register to vote – preferably against the Tories. Their next big event takes place in Boris Johnson’s own constituency of Uxbridge.

          Image copyright Getty Images
          Image caption Stormzy’s song Vossi Bop provides the inspiration for FCK Boris’ name

          FCK Boris retains the grime connection though – with the name coming from a Stormzy song and the likes of Big Zuu performing at their events.

          But does it say something that some of the focus is now anti-Johnson rather than pro-Corbyn?

          Not according to Adam.

          “We can’t dictate to young people what the cultural trends should be. We work with where people are at – what young people and artists are talking about – and build on that,” he says.

          ‘Let someone else have a go’

          Lethal Bizzle’s never shied away from getting involved in politics – famously labelling David Cameron a “donut” way back in 2006.

          And he was one of the few grime MCs who voiced concerns about Jeremy Corbyn in 2017.

          Bizzle said he was backing Labour and that Jeremy Corbyn was “cool”, but told Fubar Radio he wasn’t sure Corbyn was the “man to take the party forward”.

          He’s still urging his fans to vote Labour this time around, but doesn’t seem sold on Corbyn – calling on the Islington North MP to make way for somebody else earlier this year.

          There have been a few other signs grime artists aren’t too pleased with the way things have unfolded post-2017.

          Skepta claimed that MCs had been “used” – saying that after the election politicians stopped paying attention to grime artists and the communities they come from.

          AJ Tracey, who was in the official Labour campaign video in 2017, told the Observer last month that if he was to vote for anyone now it would be the Green Party.

          “Corbyn is a great guy and his morals are in the right place but I don’t think he’s strong enough to be our leader.”

          Politicians trying to align themselves with what’s cool to gain some support is nothing new, according to journalist Kieran Yates.

          “Whether it’s Gordon Brown saying that he listens to the Arctic Monkeys or Jeremy Paxman inviting Dizzee Rascal on Newsnight, this has always happened,” she says.

          Image copyright Getty Images
          Image caption Mercury Prize-winner Skepta says people “sold themselves” during the 2017 election

          “I remember the Tory party trying to get Nu Brand Flexx at the time to do a Conservative election track… so I think Corbyn actually was just doing what other politicians have always done but slightly more effectively.”

          Kieran thinks that reaching out to grime artists and their young fans could be considered doing the “bare minimum”, but that it wasn’t just a token effort from Corbyn.

          “He is talking about Grenfell. He is talking about the ethnic pay gap, he is talking about the environment – about things that young people and young grime artists find really engaging and important.”

          ‘We’re still here’

          Yizzy got involved with Grime 4 Corbyn in 2017 because the Labour leader “was the first politician I felt was for the people”, he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

          And the MC is still certain that Jeremy Corbyn is the only person who’ll stand up for people in areas like Lewisham, Bow, Moss Side and Toxteth – the kind of places where grime traditionally comes from.

          “Grime and most of the grime MCs are coming from council estates. They’re coming from flats. They’re coming from single-parent households and single incomes, working class backgrounds, blue collar jobs. That is what grime is as a background.

          “So to find a person that can represent us to the fullest and tries his very best to implement some changes – we’re still here, grime is still here. We’ve not left,” he says.

          Image copyright Eva Pentel
          Image caption Yizzy, who’s 19, says he’s supported Labour from a young age

          The MC accepts that Corbyn seems to have lost some momentum from 2017 when he was the “big cheese”, but puts that down to “Brexit taking over everyone’s screens and everyone’s minds”.

          “It’s a little difficult to focus on an individual person… and obviously it’s very easy to focus on someone you dislike rather than someone you’re in favour of.”

          But he says the “feeling is still the same for Jeremy Corbyn”.

          “We don’t necessarily need to tweet and start another wave of Grime 4 Corbyn – because grime is still for Corbyn.”

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          Image copyright Getty Images/Brits/BBC
          Image caption Celeste follows such recent winners as Rag’n’Bone Man (left) and Sam Fender (right)

          Soul singer Celeste has won the Brits’ Rising Star award, priming her for success in 2020.

          Born in Los Angeles and raised in Brighton, the musician has turned heads with her beguiling, soulful voice.

          After winning the Rising Star award, the 25-year-old will get to perform on stage at the Brit Awards in February.

          The British-Jamaican singer said the award was “a huge honour” and that she hoped “to make the most of this incredible opportunity”.

          “Like many others, I grew up watching the Brits and have been continually inspired by its nominees, winners and the performances,” she went on.

          The prize, formerly called the Critics’ Choice award, has previously been awarded to Adele, Sam Fender and Rag’n’Bone Man.

          Celeste started singing in her teens, taking inspiration from Elton John’s Your Song.

          She picked up support from Radio 1 DJs after uploading her song North Circular to the BBC Music Introducing site.

          Her debut EP, The Milk and Honey, was produced by Lily Allen’s Bank Holiday Records label shortly after and she was signed to Polydor Records last year.

          Her melancholy ballad Strange was recently playlisted by BBC Radio 1 and she is currently touring Europe with R&B star Michael Kiwanuka.

          Earlier this week, Celeste was named BBC Introducing’s artist of the year. She also appeared on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to talk about her musical upbringing.

          “The first music I heard was my granddad playing Aretha Franklin and then later Ella Fitzgerald and Otis Redding,” she said, citing the likes of Solange and Neneh Cherry as more modern inspirations.

          “Something I love about Neneh Cherry is she seems unbreakable. She’s remained very cool, and an icon I think.”

          Describing herself as “headstrong” and an “independent thinker”, Celeste said “being yourself [was] one of the most important things” while pursuing music.

          The Rising Star award is decided by a panel of music editors, critics, radio and music TV station heads, songwriters, producers and live bookers.

          Celeste topped a shortlist of three female singer-songwriters that also included musical polymath Joy Crookes and indie heroine Beabadoobee.

          All three got the chance to record a session at London’s famous Abbey Road Studios.

          Afterwards Celeste said she had been awestruck by “passing through the corridors and seeing all the pictures of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra and Kanye West on the walls”.

          “You can feel the atmosphere when you come to places like this, which I love,” she continued.

          The 2020 Brit Awards will be broadcast live on ITV on 8 February from the O2 Arena in London.

          Follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email

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          Advent calendars have become big business for children and adults alike, signalling the start of the Christmas countdown.

          But for lots of disabled children they can be a no-go – the fiddly doors require dexterity to open, sweets may not be allowed for medical reasons and the concept might not make any sense to them. But rather than miss out, some parents have found ingenious ways for them to join in

          When I was a child, my parents hung an advent calendar at the foot of the stairs. It was a square-ish quilt my mother had made with a big Christmas tree at the top and 24 numbered pockets underneath.

          Every night my parents placed an ornament and a small gift into a pocket and every morning I – or one of my sisters – would run downstairs to hang the ornament on the tree and examine the small present.

          I now have my own family and my own advent quilt, also made by my mother, but I have struggled to continue this tradition.

          My four-year-old daughter has a severe learning disability caused by a rare disease – she can’t crawl, talk or see very well. Katy can’t hang the ornaments on the tree or eat any sweets.

          In fact, there aren’t many small gifts that she really enjoys. Last year I tried putting some Christmassy hair-slides in the calendar, but the only thing Katy hates more than getting dressed is people touching her hair, so it was no fun for her.

          Since Katy doesn’t understand Christmas, gifts, or advent I began to ask myself who the calendar was for – her or me?

          That’s when I went online and saw that special needs families around the world had found many ways to include their children in advent.

          Festive physio

          Australian blogger Julie Jones is mother to Braeden, now 24, who has cerebral palsy.

          “As he was growing up I was just really frustrated because there were so many things around Christmas that were traditional, and which he couldn’t participate in,” says Julie.

          “The traditional advent calendars have little poky boxes and you have to be able to open them, and they require fine motor skills that he just didn’t have.”

          Image copyright

          Julie’s solution was to hang up a set of sparkly gift boxes, engineered to be opened with a drawstring. Inside were knick-knacks like bouncy balls and toy cars.

          It still wasn’t easy for Braeden to get at these goodies – but it was doable, and he had a great incentive to try. Julie says that over the years Braeden’s fine motor skills improved because of the daily round of festive physio.

          Image copyright

          Melanie Mills’s advent calendar is like mine – it’s made of fabric with rows of pockets. But instead of ornaments she gives her nine-year-old son Marshall little fabric cut-outs with Velcro on the back.

          Marshall, who has learning difficulties and other medical issues, can stick these on the calendar to create a picture – in theory.

          “At the beginning Marshall would always try to put them all on top of each other, so you’d have this nice big snow scene with 24 little things all stuck in the same place,” recalls Melanie, laughing. “Whereas a neurotypical child would have put the sleigh with reindeer and that kind of thing.”

          Image copyright Melanie Mills

          Marshall has gradually learned to spread the ornaments out in a more conventional way. More importantly, in the last couple of years he’s understood that the reappearance of the calendar means Christmas is on its way.

          This year, as well as the craft activity, Marshall will get cold hard cash. Every day he will get £1 to drop into a Christmas-tree-shaped coin run that empties into a bucket. Marshall loves shopping, so after Christmas he’ll hit the sales to spend his £24.

          In aiming for simple inclusion, the special needs community is compelled to be creative. We often end up giving our children meaningful experiences that able-bodied kids don’t get to enjoy.

          Glancing at my online network, I see one mum has found an advent cabinet and gets her son, Alfie, to “eye-point” to the right day whereupon she reads him a joke. Another mother sets her child riddles and a treasure hunt.

          Image copyright Samantha Buck

          Sally Collett says she would love to be able to buy an advent calendar in a shop that could be enjoyed by her 13-year-old son Adam, who has multiple disabilities. Last year was the first time she felt she had the time and energy to create something herself.

          She sought out 24 scented candles, and loosely wrapped them in crinkly paper that she knew Adam would enjoy playing with. In the evening, while he was taking his medication, he picked out a candle, which the family lit to enjoy together.

          Image copyright Sally Collett

          “I always think this time of year is more poignant than others, to think about how lucky you are,” she says. “To me the meaning of Christmas is family, and you’ve got another year with your child – that’s so important.”

          Alongside ingenuity there is realism. For some autistic children, the countdown to Christmas isn’t fun but frightening. Others become too obsessed with their calendars, or can’t stop themselves from gobbling all the chocolates at once. Parents of these kids lock the calendars away or dispense with the tradition altogether.

          “The challenge we’ve had in the past is that 24 days is long enough to establish a new routine, and then on day 25 it changes again,” says Rachel Wilson, mother of two children with autism. “I don’t think we could introduce something new into the routine at all, so I think it would be more about adapting part of the day.”

          Image copyright Rachel Wilson

          Rachel and her husband, Andrew, wrote The Life You Never Expected, a memoir about caring for disabled children, written from a Christian perspective. While the couple’s son Zeke has developed enough to read a book of bible stories, their nine-year-old daughter Anna has a reasoning and conceptual ability that Rachel describes as “pre-toddler”.

          For Anna, Rachel is thinking about changing bath-time during advent to give it a special feel, with some candles and music and maybe some plastic nativity figurines to play with.

          When I confess to Rachel my worry that maybe I’m just doing advent for my own benefit she tells me: “Even if you are doing it for yourself, it’s still legitimate and it’s still important to have those traditions in place.”

          She says: “I have similar worries, particularly on Anna’s birthday, when I think ‘Who is this for?’ But actually, I need to mark it. A lot of taking care of special needs children is trying to manage those moments for yourself.”

          Last week, my wife and I found a calendar that might just fulfil this need in me and still be enjoyable – perhaps, one day, meaningful – to Katy.

          She loves music and nursery rhymes, and online we found a little plastic gramophone that comes with 24 “records”. We can tuck these into the pockets of mum’s calendar and we’ll help Katy retrieve them each morning to play.

          If it’s a hit we’ll be getting it out for many Christmases to come. If it’s not… well… we can always light some smelly candles.

          For more Disability News, follow BBC Ouch on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the podcast. You can also email

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          Image caption Miller was knighted in 2002 for services to music and the arts

          Sir Jonathan Miller, the distinguished theatre and opera director who famously starred in the Beyond the Fringe satirical revue, has died aged 85.

          In a statement, his family said he had died “peacefully at home… following a long battle with Alzheimer’s”.

          A man of many parts, Miller was also an author, a photographer, a sculptor, a broadcaster and a qualified doctor.

          Born in London in 1934, Miller studied medicine at Cambridge before embarking on a career in the arts.

          The catalyst was Beyond the Fringe, in which he appeared with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett.

          The groundbreaking revue premiered at the 1960 Edinburgh Festival before transferring to the West End and Broadway.

          Image caption Miller (far right) appeared in Beyond the Fringe with Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

          Its success led to Miller becoming editor and presenter of BBC arts programme Monitor and a director of plays at the National Theatre.

          His productions included a modern-dress staging of The Merchant of Venice, with Laurence Olivier as Shylock.

          He went on to direct six of the BBC’s 1980s Shakespeare productions, among them The Taming of the Shrew with John Cleese and Othello with Anthony Hopkins.

          He served as artistic director of London’s Old Vic theatre from 1987-90. Despite being unable to read music, he also directed operas for the ENO, Glyndebourne and the Met in New York. Who’s Who listed his only recreation as “deep sleep”.

          ‘A supreme intellect’

          In a tribute, the Royal Opera House’s director of opera Oliver Mears said Miller was “one of the most important figures in British theatre and opera of the past half century”.

          He continued: “Combining a supreme intellect with a consistently irreverent perspective, formed from his experiences in both comedy and medicine, Miller shone a unique light on our art form.

          “His intolerance of inauthenticity and laziness on stage was matched by the urgency and rigour of his search for the composer’s vision, historical accuracy and psychological truth – resulting in so many productions which have stood the test of time.”

          The English National Opera added on Twitter: “His contribution to comedy, theatre and ENO in particular was immeasurable. For over four decades Jonathan created some of ENO’s most celebrated and popular opera productions.”

          And the National Theatre described him as “a legendary figure across theatre and opera”.

          ‘Creative genius’

          Miller, who was knighted in 2002 for services to music and the arts, was witty and erudite but could be cantankerous.

          “I’ve got this, I think, unjustified reputation for being grumpy,” he once said, insisting he only objected to “people who are 30 years younger than I am and know 100% less than I do”.

          Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, said Miller was “a creative genius whose imagination knew no bounds… he brought arts and culture to millions on the BBC”.

          He was also remembered by BBC Radio 3 broadcaster Petroc Trelawny as “a polymath and cultural giant” whose “contribution to British cultural life was as varied as it was vast”.

          Follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email

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          Image copyright Hafod Hardware
          Image caption Two-year-old Arthur is the star of the heart-warming story

          A shop owner who has made a Christmas advert starring his two-year-old son wants it to encourage people to buy local.

          Hafod Hardware in Rhayader, Powys, has been making festive adverts for several years and this year’s cost just £100 to produce.

          The advert sees Arthur setting up the shop along with members of his family.

          Tom Jones, Arthur’s father, said the “underlying message” is to “shop at your small independent shops”.

          The video received more than 50,000 views on YouTube within two days.

          Mr Jones said: “It has been crazy… we’ve been overwhelmed with nice emails and messages from all over the world.

          “The underlying message… is these big companies like John Lewis, they do really well at Christmas.

          “I understand Christmas can be a very expensive time for everyone and they need to save money where they can, but if they can afford to, just try and shop at your small independent shops and support us, it makes a big difference.

          “It did cost £100 to make and most of that was the cost of the music.

          Image copyright Hafod Hardware/Thomas Lewis Jones/PA Wire
          Image caption Arthur stars in the shop’s advert helping customers, carrying out handiwork and putting up decorations

          “You really see him [Arthur] developing every year from the baby to the little boy he is today.

          “The story this year is, Christmas isn’t just for kids, [you] can all just be a kid at Christmas.”

          The only expense was paying a singer to record the song, which is a cover of Alphaville’s 1984 hit Forever Young, performed by American singer-songwriter Andrea von Kampen.

          Mr Jones said the locals “really do love it.”

          The store opened its doors in 1895 and Mr Jones has worked there for 10 years.

          “People have been coming in this morning saying congratulations… they’ve been bringing in bottles of champagne for us to say well done.

          “The locals are incredible, they’re our bread and butter, we’re very lucky to have the community we have here in Rhayader.”

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