Andy Beckett

Andy Beckett is writing a book about the radical Labour left since 1968.

Favoured Irregulars: The Paras

Andy Beckett, 24 January 2019

Sentimentality​ about soldiering can be a powerful thing in countries where few people have ever done it. In the United Kingdom, the last national servicemen were demobbed 55 years ago. According to the latest figures, the armed forces have 192,130 personnel, including part-time volunteers – less than 0.3 per cent of the population. The number of full-time servicemen and women has...

In​ 1964, shortly after getting married and landing the first research fellowship at the new Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham, Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born analyst of Britain, went looking for somewhere to live. He had already been in Britain for 13 years, in Oxford and London. He wasn’t unaware that prejudice against immigrants existed. But the West Midlands...

Vuvuzelas Unite: The Trade Union Bill

Andy Beckett, 22 October 2015

The headquarters​ of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is a basement room beneath a dry cleaner’s in Central London. From a loading bay behind a row of shops, concrete steps lead down to a flimsy door, with a pile of leaflets beside it and ‘IWGB office’ scribbled above it on a piece of A4. Behind the door is a whitewashed space with metal shelves,...

Eighteen years ago, in a pub in Darlington, someone I associated with fashion and clubbing but not anything as sedentary as reading told me she had just read the best book ever written. I had never heard of Trainspotting. It had been published the previous summer, and was still in the early stages of its journey from cult status to ubiquity. Soon afterwards I too found myself improbably...

Aunt Twackie’s Bazaar: Seventies Style

Andy Beckett, 19 August 2010

Early on in this book there is a photograph of the British architect Peter Cook’s living-room ‘circa 1970’. Cook is now Sir Peter, co-designer of the rather bland main stadium for the 2012 London Olympics. But he was a young adventurer back then, a founder of the archetypal 1960s and 1970s avant-garde architects’ collective Archigram, which came up with never built but...

Another Tribe: PiL, Wire et al

Andy Beckett, 1 September 2005

In 1976, while punk was still in its early stages, Newman and three others formed a band called Wire. The bassist, Graham Lewis, ‘a fashion graduate doing freelance design for London boutiques’, tells Reynolds they chose the name for its ‘graphic quality’. At first, such signs of ambition beyond the usual rock moves - Wire also liked to stand still onstage, like mannequins - were missed. Wire’s short, dense songs were misinterpreted as standard punk rants. But as their tunes grew longer and stranger during 1977 and 1978, people began to realise Wire belonged to another tribe. A baffled NME reviewer, presented with a Wire LP partly inspired by a Radio Four programme about a holly-chewing bug called the serpentine miner, decided they were hippies. This was not quite true: Wire’s sound was too steely and their hair was too short.

“Throughout, there is an intriguing tension between the book’s desire, approaching that of a Thomas Pynchon novel, to set wheels turning within wheels, to present a political world of infinite complexity and, ultimately, chaos, and its desire for order, both organisational and moral. Peace loves describing meetings. He lingers over the rituals of failing negotiations between the union and the government, the overlit rooms and bad coffee – the fatalistic cups of tea of his previous books replaced by something more jittery – and the pulling of levers in the strike and strike-breaking machines.”

Cod on Ice: The BBC

Andy Beckett, 10 July 2003

For those inclined to ponder the state of the BBC, and of British television in general, the performance of Panorama has long been a favoured indicator. In January 1955, not much more than a year after the current affairs programme began broadcasting, the Sunday Times declared: ‘Panorama is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with television.’ Yet within five years, the Daily...

About a year ago, during one of the peaks of exasperation at the Government in the left-leaning parts of the British press, I interviewed a member of a think tank close to New Labour. For an hour or so he kept up a fairly convincing defence of the Government. He cited the increases under Blair of certain social security benefits, the reductions in taxes for some of the poorest Britons, the...

Diary: in Chile

Andy Beckett, 25 January 2001

The first time I went to Chile, while General Pinochet was still under arrest in Britain, it seemed wise while I was in Santiago to read books about him discreetly. Early on the hot, clear summer mornings, I would cross the screeching road outside my hotel, pass through an elaborate wrought-iron gate, and walk up Cerro Santa Lucia, a steep wooded hill in the centre of the capital. At every...

On Tib Street in the centre of Manchester, in the part of the city keen to promote itself as the Northern Quarter, a new delicatessen recently opened. According to its website, Love Saves the Day is ‘an integrated, licensed, food and grocery store for urban living’. It has a mostly glass façade, and two different logos, and packages its goods with almost fetishistic attention. One brand of coffee comes in a metallic silver bag, with the following information printed down one side in varying sizes, colours and typefaces, as carefully laidout as a magazine centrespread: ‘Northern Quarter Blend … Slack, smoky, complex, 24-7, domestic bliss … A cosmopolitan blend of coffees from each of the major growing regions, combining rich Indonesian complexity with sparkling Latin American fizz, and sunny African fruitiness, truly the world in a cup.’‘

They both hated DLT: Radio 1

Andy Beckett, 15 April 1999

Radio 1 used to sound like Surrey to me. Perhaps it was the disc jockeys they used in those days, with their creamy car-dealer’s voices and their discreetly tabloid opinions; or the on-air pub quizzes and snooker, where female contestants were flirted with and spoken to slowly; or the endless suburban doze of the afternoon programmes; or the sense, if you cared about pop music, that the records played were nothing but restaurant muzak to the DJs – to be talked over, cut short, looped repeatedly, forgotten about.

Perishability: Bo Fowler

Andy Beckett, 3 September 1998

There is a kind of modern writing, mostly found in books by young novelists and books about young artists, that tries not to seem like writing at all. One characteristic of this style is that it leaves things out – similes, imagery and other literary devices aren’t used, physical description is kept to a minimum. But these new writers are not trying to be Hemingway: their sentences do not hint at hard, manly hours of paring down. Instead, the spareness is playful, a mocking of literary craft. Some paragraphs are just one-liners. Their tone is that of TV or the Sun. This is the first paragraph of Blimey!, a recent book about young British artists by Matthew Collings:’

Reading Dennis Cooper can make you queasy. This short novel is the fourth in a five-volume cycle concerned almost exclusively, so far, with sexual violence. Closer (1989) subjected an American teenager to anal mutilation; Frisk (1991) concerned the butchery of young Dutch boys; and Try (1994) in which one critic detected ‘a gentler maturity’, saw an adopted son greedily penetrated by his father. In each book, and here, too, such episodes are not just a quick splatter on the page, or the stuff of hints and ambiguity, but drawn-out, physical descriptions. And, all the while, amid the broken bottles and bruised buttocks and the entire ‘fireworks display of blood’, as one of his murderers puts it, Cooper feels no need to emote.‘

Letter
Stephen Sedley repeats in passing a couple of common ideas about Chile that need qualifying (LRB, 24 June). He describes the way that people divided against each other during the Pinochet dictatorship as a ‘mystery’, given the apparent civility of modern Chile. It is less of one if you consider the Chilean civil war of 1891, the attempted and actual military coups of the 1920s and 1930s,...
Letter

Non-Interference

11 July 2002

Theresa Heine (Letters, 8 August) makes a fair point about the rarely mentioned political diversity of the Chilean Army in her response to Christopher Hitchens’s review of my book, Pinochet in Piccadilly. Besides the pro-democratic General Carlos Prats, whose dismissal she correctly cites as an important prelude to Pinochet’s coup in 1973, René Schneider, another Chilean general...

Downhill from Here: The 1970s

Ian Jack, 27 August 2009

The fashion is relatively recent for slicing up history into ten-year periods, each of them crudely flavoured and differently coloured, like a tube of wine gums. Growing up in Britain in the...

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11 September 1973: Crimes against Allende

Christopher Hitchens, 11 July 2002

The strangulation of Chilean democracy was a jewel in the crown of those successful Washington-inspired military coups and counter-revolutions that featured Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964,...

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