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The Good Old Days

In his account of the political and ideological circumstances in which the Beveridge and Borrie Reports emerged. Ross McKibbin describes the remarkable ‘politicisation’ of many in the Forties ‘for whom overt political discussion had been hitherto unacceptable’ (LRB, 26 January). He attributes ‘the intensity of public discussion’ at that period in part, at least, to the publicity given to Beveridge by the Mirror. But far more significant, surely, was the influence of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, which (to Churchill’s annoyance) distributed a shortened version of the Beveridge Report to all the junior officers in the Forces who then had to discuss it with the millions of men and women under their command. ABCA had by then become much the largest adult educational movement the country has ever known, and it insisted that discussions, and not talks followed by questions, should characterise the weekly meetings of each platoon or equivalent small unit. Not surprisingly, the junior officers found it difficult to generate and lead free discussion rather than mug up a talk based on their weekly ABCA pamphlet; and so they were sent off for six days a to Coleg Harlech, where ABCA had set up its School of Current Affairs and Discussion Method. Unfortunately there is no national network of discussion groups to lake up Tony Blair’s call for widespread discussion.

Boris Ford


Alasdair Palmer’s distraught letter (Letters, 9 February) is written under a mistaken impression, and is also wrongly addressed. He seeks to clear himself of the allegation that he is a. a Conservative and b. a writing colleague of Ms Anne Applebaum. On the first point, having thought of him as an associate since Cambridge days of Christopher Andrew, and more recently of Oleg Gordievsky, I happily accept his assurance that he is really a chum of Duncan Campbell’s. I can’t help him on the second. Ms Applebaum’s name was on the article, portentously listed as supplying material from Moscow, no less, and she has since written her own thoughts on the implications of l’ affaire Gott. Having read these thoughts, I can quite see why Mr Palmer or anyone else might wish to put some distance between himself and their author, but it would have seemed ungallant of me to have left her out. What has become of gallantry at the Spectator? Not my problem, thank goodness.

I did not assert that MI5 and MI6 were behind the Gott disclosure. Rather, I gave the reasons why a reasonable person might suspect such a connection. One of these reasons had to do with a certain protesting-too-much tone in the Spectator itself. Allow me to quote from Mr Dominic Lawson, describing Palmer’s modus operandi in a recent interview with the Independent on Sunday (22 January):

In this case let’s say X is Gott. So what Palmer did was to say [to Gordievsky]: ‘Of course we all know about X, that’s not interesting, but what we want to know about is Y.’ To which Gordievsky agrees X is in Fact a traitor and moves on to discuss Y. So Gordievsky was tricked, and when he realised he was very angry.

The interviewer, Mr Henry Porter, had the same reaction as any normal person, which was to inquire: ‘How did Palmer know which name in place before Gordievsky? And, more interesting, why, when Gordievsky is said to be so angry with the Spectator, did we find him last week in its pages attacking the Guardian?’ His provisional conclusion, which was to observe, ‘How very odd,’ is one that I must say I share.

Expending masses of your space to pounce on every imagined paranoia in my original article, Mr Palmer does not comment on my one act of generosity towards him. I seconded his admirable proposal for a clarifying inquiry into the political choices made by MI5 and MI6, and suggested that he and his colleagues might in turn support the Early Day Motion before Parliament, which calls for a hearing on the possible party-political interventions made by the fragrant Ms Stella Rimington. He is silent on this idea, and directs at me the complaints that he should properly level at Dominic Lawson and Anne Applebaum. Deuced odd, as the man said.

Christopher Hitchens
Washington DC

Pull the Other One

Ian Hacking’s review of The Bell Curve (LRB, 26 January) brought to mind an experience of R.A.C. Oliver’s in Kenya in 1930, which demonstrates that the interaction between culture and intelligence tests can have unexpected results. Oliver was then a young psychologist who had studied with Godfrey Thomson at Edinburgh and Lewis Ternan at Stanford. He was sent to Kenya by the Carnegie Corporation to develop an intelligence test that would provide the basis for an ongoing search for talented children among blacks in the colony. The test would be used to identify able students to attend the bush schools, the local secondary schools. It was hoped that these students would complete their schooling successfully and go on to become teachers. No white students were involved in the research. In considering what kinds of question to include in his test, Oliver experimented with the Porteus Maze Test that had been widely used in Europe and the United States and was considered to be a useful test of nonverbal intelligence. He reported the outcome as follows:

In these tests, the subject is presented with the printed plan of a maze, and he has to trace with a pencil the path he would follow in getting to the centre of the maze. If he enters blind alleys, he fails. The mazes form a series, graded in difficulty, and constituting an age scale of intelligence. A European child, when he reaches a maze beyond his mental age, tends to enter a blind alley and explore it to the end, and then to retrace his path to the entrance of the blind alley and go on again. He penetrates to the centre of the maze quickly enough, but with many errors. The typical procedure of the Africans tested was different. The subject would study the maze for many minutes without making a move; then he would trace his path to the centre without hesitation or error. The test had to be abandoned as a test of intelligence [in Oliver’s project], for even the most difficult mazes in the series were solved in this way by too many of the subjects.

Oliver went on to develop a test that proved to be useful in the Kenyan context. He later became the Sarah Fielden Professor of Education at Manchester University and a talented examiner for the Joint Matriculation Board, where he developed the widely used A-level examination in General Studies.

Richard Pearson
East Hartland, Connecticut

Under Wraps

The long review of my book on Giacometti (LRB, 12 January) provokes the thought that long reviews can take so long to write that the reviewer is left short of time to read the book. In the present case Mr Lubbock would only have had to read the Preface to discover that, contrary to his statement that all five chapters in Part One are reprints, in reality two of them are, three are not. (Dammit, it’s difficult enough to sell books nowadays without having unpublished work described in a reputable literary journal as having long been in print.) Later, Mr Lubbock asserts that Chapters Seven to Ten ‘aren’t divided on any obvious principle’. Well, the division goes like this. Following on Chapter Six, which deals with the surrealist work – it’s the longest chapter in the book and goes unmentioned in the review – Chapter Seven is a discussion of two texts by Giacometti, one surrealist, the other post-surrealist, which touches on his working methods as a writer. Chapter Eight is a detailed description of Giacometti’s working methods as an artist. Chapter Nine is a blow-by-blow account of Giacometti’s development as a representational artist which begins with his juvenilia and ends with his death. Chapter Ten, the penultimate chapter of Part Two, tries to say something about the content of the work, first recapitulating the penultimate chapter of Part One and then taking off in another direction.

David Sylvester
London W11

The Great Copyright Disaster

Professor Sutherland aims at a number of different targets in his recent article on copyright (LRB, 12 January). 1. Professor Sutherland complains about the extra 20 years’ income from the UK which Hitler’s heirs will receive by reason of the implementation of the European Directive extending the term of copyright protection. If this is an argument about the balance of trade, then shouldn’t we also bear in mind the extra 20 years’ income which British publishers and British authors’ heirs will receive from other member states? Perhaps he simply means to express disapproval at the notion of anyone profiting from Hitler’s writings. English courts have been willing from time to time to assume the role of censor of morals: by, for example, refusing to grant Murray an injunction to restrain infringement of Don Juan or, in more recent times, suggesting that Peter Wright’s publishers need not pay him royalties for Spycatcher – is this what Professor Sutherland has in mind?

2. He is mistaken to suggest that the extra 20-year post-mortem protection in Germany was introduced in order to compensate for the interruption to booktrade activity caused by the Second World War. In fact, when the draft of the Federal German Copyright Law of 1965 was originally submitted, it contained a proposed 20-year domaine public payant (i.e. a cultural levy to be used for Arts Council-like purposes), tacked onto the existing 50-year period. This was abandoned at the last minute in favour of an extension to the protection period. Three other European countries, Belgium, France and Italy, have extensions of various lengths to compensate authors for loss of revenue as a result of World War One (Belgium), World War Two (Italy) and World Wars One and Two (France).

3. He is also wrong about moral rights. The introduction of moral rights into British law was effected by the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 (‘CDPA’) and was necessitated not by any Euro-legislation but by the United Kingdom’s treaty obligations under successive versions of the Berne Convention, of which the United Kingdom was an original signatory in 1886. Moral rights made their first appearance in the Rome text of the Convention, which dates from 1928, so it cannot be claimed that we were precipitate. In their British guise, moral rights may be waived and may only be exercised by authors and, in the 50 years post mortem, by their heirs. CDPA specifically provides that such rights do not apply to works whose authors died before 1 August 1989, the commencement date of the Act. Professor Sutherland’s examples of the RSC getting injunctions against Hamlet Cigars or Romeo and Juliet condoms are fanciful in the present state of the law in the UK. But not on the other side of the Channel, where they order things differently. Danish copyright law has come to the aid of the authors of the New Testament to protect their moral right, which was thought likely to be infringed by a film script describing Jesus as having had a number of love affairs, and the French courts were ready to uphold the rights of Laclos in relation to the Vadim film of Les Liaisons dangerouses.

4. Professor Sutherland’s comment about authors’ royalties shrinking from 20 per cent to ‘a measly 10 per cent’ over the last hundred years skates very lightly over deep waters. Apart from royalty rates we would need to know the selling prices on which the royalties were being calculated and the average number of copies sold. Once that information available it would be possible to do some rough and ready calculations (disregarding the impact of taxation and differences in living standards) to produce comparative data. For interest I have undertaken a very rudimentary exercise. I have looked at the selling prices of an arbitary sample of hardcover novels, published at dates between 1946 and 1994. The first is Roy Fuller’s Savage Gold, published in 1946 at 8s 6d, and the last is the most recent Patrick O’Brian, published last year at £14.99. I have then calculated by reference to the Government’s retail price indices what the price of the Fuller novel would have been in 1994, assuming that the 1946 selling price had been inflated by no more than the increase in the indices. The answer is a selling price of under £9. Similarly, if you take Hughes’s Fox in the Attic, published in 1961 at 18s, its 1994 equivalent is just over £10. That suggests to me that Professor Sutherland’s declining royalty may have been compensated by a real increase in selling prices. The other compensatory fact I would propose is that there has been a very significant increase in the scale of activity in the paperback market.

5. It is incorrect to state that ‘unpublished literary remains enjoy perpetual protection.’ The CDPA abolished perpetual protection, which had been an unaltering feature of the copyright landscape for a period in excess of two hundred years. Apart from special provisions for pre-1988 works, there is no distinction, as the law now stands, between those works which an author publishes in his lifetime and his remains: both fall into the public domain 50 years post mortem. Of course, the difference is that near kin may hide literary remains from the world’s eyes, if they choose.

6. Professor Sutherland’s concern about the availability of good editions of canonical texts echoes an argument of Dr Johnson’s in support of an extension of the protection period to 50 years. Johnson wrote: ‘In fifty years almost every book begins to require notes either to explain forgotten allusions and obsolete words; or to subjoin those discoveries which have been made by the gradual advancement of knowledge; or to correct those mistakes which time may have discovered. Such Notes cannot be written to any useful purpose without the text, and the text will frequently be refused while it is any man’s property.’ It seems to me that a Heritage Edition of the best texts of the canon might command wide support and would be an eminently suitable project for the Millennium Commission to consider.

7. Finally, I entirely agree that the rights of users of copyright material need to be vigorously defended so that the proper balance can continue to be struck between, on the one hand, the interests of authors and other derivative rights owners (publishers, producers), who wish to protect the integrity of their creations and receive proper remuneration, and, on the other hand, the interests of society at large in having access to useful books, films, music and visual and plastic arts. The BBC, like any other broadcasting organisation committed to reporting and commenting on all aspects of British society, is bound to want to ensure that copyright legislation includes proper public footpaths as well as No Trespassing signs. One of the most recent cases reflecting the differences between a rights owner and a user about the definition and extent of ‘fair dealing’ arose in relation to a Channel 4 programme which ‘quoted’ extensively from the film A Clockwork Orange. Channel 4’s right to make such use, amounting to about 20 per cent of the duration of the programme and a rather smaller proportion of the original feature film, was upheld by the court.

Tom Rivers
Head of Copyright and Artists’ Rights, BBC, London W12

Clean Bowled

The English-speaking world has long been afflicted by what has been termed, in Britain, ‘greengrocers’ apostrophe’ (as in ‘potato’s’, ‘tomato’s’ etc), but the use of double inverted commas, or quotation marks, as an indication of intonational and, thereby, semantic stress is a more recent development, limited, in my experience, to advertisements of the cruder kind, especially those hand-written on the windows of greengrocers’ and other shops, and those published in the provincial press by estate agents. I did not look to see its use infecting the pages of the LRB.

Jenny Diski, in her review of Elizabeth Maxwell’s A Mind of My Own: My Life with Robert Maxwell (LRB, 26 January) – which I otherwise enjoyed – quotes Robert Maxwell as saying or writing, ‘Mr Watson threw a googly at me,’ and as being rather discourteously corrected by Mr Watson: ‘Every Englishman knows you “bowl” [sic] a googly’ (presumably the double inverted commas are Ms Diski’s – or, perhaps, Ms Sue Barrett’s?), the punctuation implying that the word ‘bowl’ is of doubtful authenticity, if not downright wrong. However, following the sense of the passage, ‘bowl’ is, in fact, being offered by the speaker or writer as the correct word, and the normal typesetting interpretation of his intonational intent would be to print the word in italics. The usage displayed in Ms Diski’s review causes the argument to point in opposite directions at the same time. People familiar with the operational characteristics of earlier word processors tell me that this curious use of inverted commas may well stem from difficulties in underlining when using these machines: usage ex machina? I am saddened to see the LRB lending its support to such imprecise practices.

Kenneth Hoyle

Blunt Weapon

Why does Michael Wood, reviewing Julia Kristeva (LRB, 26 January), write: ‘there she says “féminité [sic] oblige ”’? The critic’s sic is a blunt weapon: does he wish to call attention to the use of this word rather than another, in which case it would be interesting to know the inference he draws from such a choice, or is he suggesting that there is something odd or incorrect about the word itself? The second possibility would be surprising in a review that lays such stress on shades of meaning between words in French and English. Féminité is the correct and usual term for ‘feminine character, group of characteristics peculiar to women’. Its first recorded use in French dates from 1265; the Robert notes that it was revived and came into wider usage at the end of the 19th century. It covers biological and sociological meanings, as well as actual and symbolic functions attributed to women. It remains a descriptive and neutral term in an area mined by militancy, becoming pejorative only when applied to a man. The OED records use of the English word ‘feminity’, formed on the French, going back to Chaucer.

Féminéite, given in the Larousse du XXe Siécle, and fémininité, noted by Littré, have fallen into disuse, as has in this century féminilité The Robert notes that since 1970 feminists use féminitude, especially to denounce the different status of men and women. Femellitude is sometimes used in the same sense and context.

Gerald Long

Madness: The Movie

Porphyria has become the likeliest accepted reason for George III’s behaviour (LRB, 9 February). However, when an undergraduate in the dear dead Sixties I seem to remember waking during a lecture by one of Manchester’s distinguished 18th-century scholars, to be told that George’s illness was down to drinking lemonade. It had apparently become fashionable at the court and the acidic effect on pewter and crystal transported the lead content from pot to pot belly. Lead poisoning over a long period followed and caused the King’s illness.

David Townsend
Director of Social Services, London Borough of Croydon

The British Library Will Survive

As a regular, rank and file, reader in the British Library I have of course already studied Anthony Kenny’s pamphlet The British Library and the St Pancras Building. I found it full of the kind of reassuringly vague phrases which I am more familiar with in another of my capacities, as a telecommunications manager. In the meantime, although I don’t suppose this matter will much distress Anthony Kenny, industrial relations troubles at the St Pancras site continue. Union activists there have suggested that it pays among the lowest wages on major London building sites. Perhaps here lies the vital clue as to why the thing has taken so long to be built? Or perhaps the Library insists on the builders being treated in the same way as it has become accustomed to treating its own staff?

Keith Flett
London N17

Lone Ranger

You often give space to academic critics like John Sutherland to complain about the hard time academic critics are having in Great Britain. Now you give space to an academic critic like Elaine Showalter to complain about the hard time academic critics are having in the United States (LRB, 9 February). Could you give some space to the question whether academic critics should have anything but a hard time, considering how little they contribute to the actual creation or genuine appreciation of art or literature or anything else? What is the use of the Modern Language Association, or indeed of any of the university departments of language or literature or humanities, to the cultural life of this or any other country?

Nicolas Walter
London N1

Say It Loud

May I point out, in connection with Terence Hawkes’s piece on Scott Joplin (LRB, 26 January), that the Fourteenth Amendment was never ratified, and could not have been. It was simply ‘proclaimed’.

Kiffin Rockwell
Marion, North Carolina


I should like to ask Helen Tookey and Michael Teague, the humourless ideologues who have rebuked Gerald Long for finding a limerick about rape funny (Letters, 22 December 1994 and Letters, 12 January), what they think of the millions who condone serial murder yearly by laughing at various productions of Arsenic and Old Lace.

Bob Grumman
Port Charlotte, Florida