Philip Purser

Philip Purser was formerly the television critic of the Sunday Telegraph. His novel, Friedrich Harris: Shooting the hero, was published by Quartet in May.

The Great Escape

Philip Purser, 18 August 1994

That the literary name of one age can mean nothing to the next is both a truism and a comfort; it would be depressing to have to think that in 40 years, or even five, people might still be reading the effusions of – well, write in your own candidates from today’s bestseller lists. What does seem to be less predictable is the process that will sometimes restore a lost household name.’

Diary: On Jack Trevor Story

Philip Purser, 27 January 1994

There’s no doubt that Jack Trevor Story was a dab hand at titles Man Pinches Bottom, One Last Mad Embrace, Little Dog’s Day and Live Now, Pay Later are good enticements and accurately indicate the plot, predicament and even the moral of each novel. His most famous title is still his first, The Trouble with Harry (1949), thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, who acquired the film rights for $500 but made a classic film out of a shabby deal. The history of my copy of The Trouble with Harry is typical of the fate of most of Story’s books. I picked up the 1970 Penguin for 50p in a local library sale a few months ago. Between November 1979 and March 1993 it was borrowed only three times; the fourth stamp on the loans slip says DISCARDED.

Gruff Embraces

Philip Purser, 21 October 1993

Reading Ian McIntyre’s new Life of Reith I found myself longing for just one deed, one word, one sentiment from the great man which I could admire. In public office, notably as the architect and first Director-General of the BBC, he may have achieved a number of admirable ends, if fewer than pious legend attributes to him. But the arrogance, bitterness and venom towards others he reveals in his private papers would blister paint. Not for the first time I was forced to wonder if the biographer’s traditional reliance on written, rather than oral or anecdotal evidence, always represents the fairest approach to a subject, especially when the subject is a diarist and letter-writer who scribbles away furiously, insensitively, abusively, and then takes good care to ensure every word – well, nearly every word – is preserved.’

Who, me?

Philip Purser, 3 December 1992

Does anyone remember Little Me – a fictional autobiography published by Patrick Dennis 30 years ago in mockery of the self-adulatory memoirs which gushed, as they still gush, from actor-dramatists and other multi-talented luvvies? Little Me would not only conduct the symphony he had composed for the inaugural concert in the splendid new concert hall, he was also the architect who had designed the splendid new concert hall. On free afternoons he was a brain surgeon as well, or have I pinched that from later jokes? By page six of The Sieve of Time Leni Riefenstahl is a competitive swimmer and gymnast, aged 12. On page ten she is designing passenger aircraft for when peace should come (the year is 1918), and drawing up detailed timetables for services to link important German cities. ‘I estimated the cost of plane manufacture, airfield construction and fuel in order to calculate the possible price of tickets. I found this work fascinating and noted there was in me some organisational talent struggling to emerge.’’

Hitler’s Common Market

Philip Purser, 6 August 1992

A useful maxim for reviewers would be one that encouraged them to relate art to life rather than art to art, or fiction to fiction. In two respects, unfortunately, Fatherland by Robert Harris makes artistic comparisons inescapable. It belongs, first, to that select genre of fiction which deals in the Alternative Present, or in this case an alternative recent past. It is set in 1964 in the vast, imperial, intimidating Berlin of an undefeated Third Reich. The dome of Albert Speer’s Volkshalle, nearly a thousand feet high, is lost in the clouds. Below, the earthlings prepare to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday and try to adjust to the news that, after two decades of Cold War, détente with the United States of America is suddenly a possibility. The aged President Kennedy (Joseph P., not John F.) plans to fly to Berlin for a summit meeting. Since all this is conjecture as to how things might have turned out, it can only be assessed against your own, or other people’s, conjectures. The two best-known novels based on the premise of a German or Axis victory are Len Deighton’s SS GB and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I can remember two no less interesting television variations on the theme: Giles Cooper’s epic play The Other Man, and a serial by Philip Mackie, An Englishman’s Castle.

Remembering the taeog

D.A.N. Jones, 30 August 1990

Rightly admired as a critic, an interpreter of ‘culture and society’, Raymond Williams was disappointing as a writer of fiction. The Eggs of the Eagle is the second volume of...

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