INDEPENDENT 2024-05-06 01:04:30


Lord of the Rings and Titanic actor Bernard Hill dies aged 79

Bernard Hill, the actor best known for his roles in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Titanic, has died at the age of 79.

Hill played Theoden, King of Rohan, in the Oscar-winning fantasy films based on the novels by JRR Tolkien, and the part of Captain Edward Smith in James Cameron’s hit disaster movie.

The news was confirmed to the BBC by the actor’s agent Lou Coulson, who said that he had died in the early hours of Sunday morning (5 May). A statement from Hill’s family is expected shortly.

The actor was also known for his iconic role as Yosser Hughes in Alan Bleasdale’s seminal British drama Boys from the Blackstuff.

Between Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Hill was the only actor in history to have appeared in more than one film that won 11 or more Oscars.

He had been set to appear at Liverpool Comic Con this week. The event issued a statement on Twitter/X, saying: “We’re heartbroken to hear the news of Bernard Hill’s passing. A great loss. Thinking of his family at this very sad time, and wishing them a lot of strength,” read the post.

Folk musician Barbara Dickson also shared the news on Twitter/X, writing: “It’s with great sadness that I note the death of Bernard Hill. We worked together in John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert, Willy Russell marvellous show 1974-1975.

“A really marvellous actor. It was a privilege to have crossed paths with him. RIP Benny x”.

Born in Blackley, Manchester on 17 December 1944, Hill was raised in a Catholic family of miners, and studied at what is now the Manchester School of Theatre.

After small parts in the BBC’s I, Claudius and Hard Labour, Hill’s breakthrough role came in 1979, when he played a working-class Scouse man pushed to the brink by the brutality of the British welfare state in The Black Stuff. He then reprised the role three years later in the serialised sequel, Boys from the Black Stuff.

His character’s catchphrase, “Gizza job”, became widely recognised among the British viewing public.

Film parts followed, including roles in Gandhi (1982), Mountains of the Moon (1990), Skallagrigg (1994) and Madagascar Skin (1995).

In the 1990s, Hill’s profile in Hollywood continued to grow, with major parts in films such as The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) opposite Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas.

In Titanic, Hill played the captain of the doomed vessel that sinks in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.

In 1999, Hill starred in the Clint Eastwood film True Crime. He later described the experience as “great fun”, commenting: “[Eastwood is] a considerate director; he knows how actors think, and he’s massively quiet on the set, and he’s got a gentle way in which he approaches the directing.”

Hill’s character was introduced in the second Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers. In the film, Theoden is a king who leads the people of Rohan. Hill reprised the role in the trilogy-capper Return of the King.

Asked about his fondest memory, Hill later reflected: “I loved every minute of every day that I was on Lord of the Rings.”

The actor’s other noteworthy roles include Philos in the Dwayne Johnson-starring supernatural thriller The Scorpion King, and Thomas Howard in the BBC’s six-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

Hill’s most recent role comes in the Martin Freeman police drama The Responder, which begins on BBC One this Sunday.

Netanyahu rejects peace talks as Israel orders Al Jazeera shutdown

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cut down ceasefire talks after refusing to agree to Hamas’s demands to end the war in Gaza.

In talks in Cairo on Saturday, an adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said any deal would have to include an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

While Israeli officials did not send a delegation to Cairo, Mr Netanyahu said the state of Israel “cannot accept” such demands.

Speaking on Sunday, he said: “We are not prepared to accept a situation in which the Hamas brigades come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the settlements surrounding the southern mountains, in all parts of the country.”

Mr Netanyahu’s crackdown continued on Sunday as he ordered the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close.

The order, which includes confiscating broadcast equipment, preventing the broadcast of the channel’s reports and blocking its websites, is believed to be the first time Israel has ever shut down a foreign news outlet.

In a statement released shortly after Mr Netanyahu’s, the Hamas chief said the group was still keen on reaching a comprehensive ceasefire that ends the Israeli “aggression”, guarantees Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and achieves “a serious” deal to free Israelis being held hostage in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Mr Haniyeh also blamed the Israeli prime minister for “the continuation of the aggression and the expansion of the circle of conflict, and sabotaging the efforts made through the mediators and various parties”.

Indicating that this round of talks may soon unwind, a Palestinian official said: “If Netanyahu doesn’t change his mind, there will be no reason to stay. They can always reconvene if that changes.”

In response to Hamas’s demands, Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said: “We are observing worrying signs that Hamas does not intend to reach an agreement with us.

“This means strong military action in Rafah will begin in the very near future, and in the rest of the Strip.”

According to Gaza’s health ministry, more than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed, 29 of them in the past 24 hours, and more than 77,000 have been wounded in Israel’s assault on the besieged enclave since Hamas killed 1,200 people in a shock attack on 7 October.

A further blow to peace negotiations was struck on Sunday when Israel also closed the main crossing point for delivering desperately needed humanitarian aid for Gazans starving after almost seven months of war.

The Israeli military reported 10 projectiles were launched at the crossing in southern Israel and said its fighter jets later struck the source.

Hamas said it had been targeting Israeli soldiers in the area. Israel’s Channel 12 TV channel said 10 people were wounded, three seriously. It was unclear how long the crossing would be closed.

The attack came shortly after the head of the UN World Food Programme asserted there was a “full-blown famine” in devastated northern Gaza, one of the most prominent warnings yet of the toll of restrictions on food and other aid entering the territory.

Wilson leads Jones in World Championship final after black ball drama

Jak Jones missed a golden chance to pile the pressure on his opponent Kyren Wilson as his improbable Crucible comeback came up short at the end of the first day of the World Snooker Championship final.

Jones scraped away at an early 7-1 deficit but lost out in a dramatic black ball climax to the final frame of the day which let 12th seed Wilson off the hook and heading into Monday’s concluding sessions with an 11-6 lead.

Reflecting on his missed chance to move within three frames of his opponent, a visibly deflated Jones told the BBC: “It’s a miracle that I’m still in it, I played shocking. I’m absolutely knackered and I think if I’d had a decent night’s sleep last night I could have done better.”

Jones had experienced a nightmare start and had to wait until the last frame of the first session to get on the scoreboard and avoid becoming the first player since Dennis Taylor in 1985 to lose the first eight frames of the final.

The Welshman, who fought through a gruelling semi-final win over Stuart Bingham on Saturday night, was clearly relieved when he sunk the frame-ball red, but thoughts focused on whether Wilson could go on to become only the fourth man to win the title with a session to spare.

Wilson had been imperious form from the start as he rattled in two centuries, including a break of 129 in the opening frame, and four further half-centuries.

But the 32-year-old Englishman, in his first final since losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2020, was far from perfect, a straight missed blue in the third frame handing his opponent an opportunity that he failed to convert.

It was the story of the session for Jones, only the ninth qualifier to reach a Crucible final, who was ruthlessly punished for spurning further opportunities and began to look increasingly ill at ease in his chair.

The Welshman was criticised by six-times world champion Steve Davis – who inflicted the eight-frame lead on Taylor – for not heading straight for the practice table at the interval.

“He’s been sitting in his chair for four frames,” Davis told the BBC. “Why would you not go to the practice table? I don’t understand why not.

“He’s absolutely not even got out of the blocks, and he’s expecting to pot what could be difficult shots. It’s a no-brainer to me to go to the practice table.”

Besides Taylor’s poor start against Davis, the only other time a player lost the first seven frames of a Crucible final was in 1991, when Jimmy White fell 7-0 behind against John Parrott.

But Jones looked like a revitalised player at the start of the evening session, pouncing with breaks of 75 and 52 in the first two frames to claw back the deficit to 7-3.

Jones also had chances in the next two frames but Wilson pulled them back, and when the 12th seed went into the mid-session interval having restored his seven-frame advantage, it looked like the underdog’s valiant effort had come to nothing.

Wilson responded to Jones pulling another frame back with his fourth century of the day, a flamboyant 122 to go 10-4 in front, but it sparked Jones into fashioning a gutsy turnaround.

The qualifier took the next two frames, then made a superb break of 64 under the utmost pressure that looked set to turn the momentum of the tie in his favour.

But a missed yellow left Wilson with one snooker required, and after Wilson’s failure to clear the colours, it culminated in the black ball decider that has made a huge difference to the pair’s prospects when they resume on Monday afternoon.

Wilson said: “It’s not about the scoreline, it’s about the way the frame was won. I’m proud of the way I held it together. I had in my head that I wanted to get to 11 tonight, so target achieved.”

Bank of England not yet ready to cut UK interest rates, experts say

UK borrowers eager for costs to come down may have to wait a little longer before interest rates take a dip.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), which sets the level of UK interest rates, will announce its latest decision on Thursday.

However, economists are widely expecting the committee to keep rates at the current level of 5.25 per cent, which it has been held at since August last year.

This means that there could still be some time before the pressure of the cost of living begins to ease.

At the last meeting in March, just one member of the MPC, Swati Dhingra, voted for rates to be cut by 0.25 percentage points, but the remaining eight members voted for no change.

Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec, said: “This broad direction illustrates that collectively the committee is moving gradually towards a rate cut.

“It seems unlikely though to be ready to bite the bullet just yet and the Bank rate looks set to remain on hold at 5.25 per cent for the sixth consecutive meeting.”

He added that it is possible that a second member of the MPC will switch to the “easing camp” and vote for a cut on Thursday.

Interest rates are used as a tool to help bring down UK inflation, which has fallen sharply from the highs hit in 2022 when energy costs spiked and the cost-of-living crisis was at its peak.

The rate of Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation fell to 3.2 per cent in March, according to the latest official figures.

But experts suggested that two key economic indicators for the Bank of England – pay growth and services sector inflation – have remained more stubborn.

Average wages continued to increase faster than the rate of inflation last month.

Andrew Goodwin, chief UK economist for Oxford Economics, said: “The data published in mid-April for services inflation and private sector regular pay growth has likely extinguished any remaining hopes of a move in May.

“Though both measures have continued to fall, progress has been slightly slower than the MPC anticipated, and they are currently running marginally higher than the forecasts published in February’s Monetary Policy Report.”

He said it is likely to be a “close call” on whether the MPC decides to cut rates in June or August.

Investec’s Mr Shaw said he expects CPI inflation to have fallen to the target 2 per cent level in May, which would prompt the MPC to cut interest rates to 5 per cent when they next meet in June.

Economists at HSBC are also expecting the first rate cut to come in June.

The Bank of England will shed more light on its predictions for the economy and the path of interest rates when it publishes the latest Monetary Policy Report alongside the rates decision on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the central bank in the US, the Federal Reserve, said on Wednesday it was keeping its key interest rate at the same level and noted a “lack of further progress” towards lowering inflation.

It means rates could stay higher for longer until there is firmer evidence of price rises easing, its chairman Jerome Powell suggested.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

Brexit changes linked to ‘collapse in confidence’ for UK farmers

A combination of 18 months of bad weather, Brexit and other international events have left confidence in British farming at an all-time low, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has revealed.

NFU President Tom Bradshaw has warned that the collapse in confidence has seen 7,000 agricultural businesses close down since 2019 and is now imperilling food security in Britain.

The NFU’s annual Farmer Confidence Survey was taken between November 2023 and January this year, and Mr Bradshaw noted that if it had been taken today the word “crisis” would need to be added.

He described a “perfect storm” including volatility caused by the war in Ukraine and the effects of covid. While he did not mention Brexit by name Mr Bradshaw listed a number of post-Brexit changes including to the subsidy regime and new international trade deals.

The NFU president blamed 18 months of unusually wet weather for much of the difficulties but also listed a number of problems caused by Brexit, including the Australia and New Zealand trade deals which come with a competitive disadvantage for the UK because of Britain’s higher standards.

However, top of the list of concerns was the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the continuation of the EU subsidy which had supported farms around the UK.

The survey showed that this was the number one issue for farmers with 86 percent naming it as a serious concern.

BPS is being replaced by the Environmental Land Management Scheme but payments have dropped by 50 percent at a time when farmers are having to borrow more.

Mr Bradshaw said: “We have been clear as the NFU for some time of our concern that the move away from the BPS to the public money for public good, while very well-intentioned, has taken food production for granted.

“Our concern is that if members don’t have confidence then we as a country can’t deliver food security. We have all political parties say that food security is national security. If they really mean these words they need to ask themselves what actions they need to take to rebuild farmer confidence.”

He warned “believing we can import our way out of this problem is naive at best and foolish at worst.”

He added: “We need a long-term plan for how we are going to feed 70 million people on an island.”

Mr Bradshaw pointed to another post-Brexit issue on immigration that “we still don’t have a seasonal worker scheme for next year.”

This issue has seen EU citizens, who used to come and pick fruit, stop making the trip following the UK leaving the EU.

The survey shows that short and mid-term confidence is at its lowest since records began in 2010. Because of this lack of confidence, production intentions have also plummeted with all farming sectors expecting to decrease production over the next year.

The relentless wet weather has played a big part, with 82 per cent of respondents saying their farm businesses have suffered negative impacts, with mixed farms, arable farms and dairy farms having taken the biggest hits.

Ultimate Athens city break: from sightseeing to shopping, must-dos

Whether from school-time lessons about Zeus and Hera, or a more recent dip into Disney’s Hercules, the fascinating world of Ancient Greece is sure to sit somewhere in your mind. But seeing the sights in real life is an experience quite unlike any other. Vast temples perch on top of cliffs, seemingly held suspended against all gravitational odds, columns stretch into the clouds, and carvings are so creative it’s hard to believe there was no 3D printer back in 5 BC. Even better, it’s never been easier to get out here and explore, with my trip seamlessly organised from flights and hotel to sight-packed tours, by Jet2CityBreaks. The UK’s number one tour operator wraps up your flights, hotel and 22kg baggage into an ATOL-protected package, so everything’s taken care of. What’s more, if you’re booking a solo holiday, you’ll be automatically eligible for their solo traveller discount, which takes £30 off* your holiday booking.

While Athens may be known for its rich history, beyond the fascinating sites and artefact-laden museums, there are plenty of modern attractions to enjoy in this dynamic destination. Think bustling bars, a glistening coast and winding streets full of shops to stroll through. In fact, it’s this blend between these two worlds that makes Athens such a fascinating city, with peeks into the ancient world (think statues, ruins, and archaeological remnants) popping up in unexpected places, from gaps in the pavement to my personal favourite, hidden inside a metro station.

So, after a pleasant morning flight from London Stansted, I check into Skylark, a chic hotel, boasting everything from a stylish restaurant, stunning rooftop pool and bar, gym, spa and even an in-house club on-site. Just a short walk from the old town area of Plaka, it’s perfect for soaking up Athens’ fascinating past and buzzy present from the moment I arrive.

For those seeking a trip back in time via dramatic ruins and ancient tales, Athens’ compelling history feels ever-present as you make your way around the city. I wasn’t joking about the metro station moment, as Monastiraki Square houses a small ‘River of Hades’ exhibition, so you can take in a small archaeological site before stepping onto a train. Truly fascinating. Although, if you prefer to see your artefacts in a more structured setting, there are plenty of museums to choose from – the Acropolis Museum, National Archaeological Museum and Benaki Museum are just a few highlights.

No matter where you are in Athens, you can spot the Acropolis standing tall in the centre, and visiting it is a must. Home to the famous Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, to name but a few, this cluster of historical sites on top of the hill will take your breath away. On your way out, be sure to pass through the Acropolis Museum to see more incredible artefacts from the site, before making your way down to Hadrian’s Gate and the Temple of Olympian Zeus where you can get up close to dramatic stone arches and Corinthian columns.

Further afield, a one-day tour of Delphi (main image, above) is a must for history buffs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Delphi was considered by the Ancient Greeks to be the centre of the world, and it’s where you’ll find the famed temple and Oracle of Apollo, where a series of high priestesses, known as Pythia, would share prophecies, advice and counsel with leaders and lawmakers, often forecasting the outcome of projected wars or political actions. Surrounded by the stunning Greek countryside, this well-preserved site makes for a truly memorable trip, taking in the ancient site, ruins and temple, plus an on-site museum housing mosaics and sculptures.

Unsurprisingly, given their famed cuisine, there’s an abundance of eateries in the Greek capital, and a stroll through Plaka reveals countless tempting options. A favourite of mine was the Bookbar, where, as the name suggests, you can sit down with a good read plucked from the shelves around you while you sip your Greek coffee (a stronger, richer form of Espresso).

For gyros, a staple in Greek culture, consisting of fine strips of meat (and sometimes chips) inside a pita bread, Tylixto is the takeaway that is the most popular pick, with no fewer than 20 people in the queue at any given time.

Louis Bistrot offers a more formal food setting, serving Mediterranean food under New Orleans-esque architecture, while Thespis provides a more authentic Athens vibe, nestled under olive trees and twinkling fairy lights on the way up to the Acropolis. Plus, if you’re after a tasty tipple, Fine Wine sits just next door, so you can sample some Greek wines while sitting outside on one of the city’s pretty winding streets.

Another Athens must-see is the changing of the guards that stand in front of the war memorial, the grave of the Unknown Soldier. Head to Syntagma Square at 11am on a Sunday and join the growing crowd to see the elaborate, dance-like display of soldiers in traditional dress.

Fashion fans may be familiar with Athens’ famous sandal man, Stavros Melissinos, who has made leather shoes for The Beatles, Sarah-Jessica Parker, Jill Biden and many more famous faces. To join his star-studded clientele, head over to his store on the edge of the old town. For more souvenir shopping, Adrianou Street is bustling with options, with everything from jewellery (including classic ‘Evil Eye’ bracelets) Greek honey and hand-crafted trinkets in plentiful supply.

Finally, if you fancy taking in some sea air, a metro ride from the city centre to the port of Piraeus will have you watching boats and tucking into fresh fish in a mere half hour. Head straight to Zea Marina and Mikrolimano Harbor for a picturesque place to perch.

To find out more about destinations, hotels, and book your perfect city adventure, visit Jet2CityBreaks

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Did Rishi Sunak deliberately snub Susan Hall by not voting in London?

With the catastrophic local election results suffered by the Tories this weekend, Rishi Sunak’s leadership has again become the focus of attention.

It was bad enough to win fewer council seats than the Lib Dems by losing almost 500 out of the 985 the Tories were defending. And the defeat of West Midlands mayor Andy Street by Labour’s Richard Parker was a stunning blow.

But amid the chaos and recriminations, nothing seems to have symbolised the prime minister’s own deficiencies more than the revelation that he was sitting in London during the elections on Thursday but did not get round to voting for his party’s candidate for London mayor, Susan Hall.

Election results reveal how futile it would be for Sunak to tack right

If constantly lurching to the right were the answer to the Conservatives’ problems, the party would have won every mayoralty in the country, have gained control of multiple councils, and be heading for a historic fifth successive general election win sometime in the next few months. Rishi Sunak would now be making plans to take Britain into the 2030s. It would have been the biggest comeback since Lazarus. Instead, the prime minister faces oblivion in a flood of biblical proportions.

This is, in fact, already the most right-wing government Britain has had in decades. So far from Rishi Sunak being the “socialist” he is accused of being by his own colleagues, absurdly enough, he has adopted steadily more rightist positions over the past few months, but to no avail. He has abandoned interim targets on the decarbonisation of home heating, and postponed the transition to electric vehicles. He has introduced ever more draconian legislation to make the ill-starred Rwanda policy a reality, made legal migration harder, and promised to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights if it suits him.

He’s dished out cuts in national insurance and offered the prospect of abolishing it. He’s announced potentially devastating cuts to disability benefits. He even gave the Conservative conference that infamously asinine soundbite: “A man is a man and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense.” By background, he is a genuine, longstanding Brexiteer and Thatcherite.