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I’m being a singer

Andrew O’Hagan: Dandy Highwaymen, 8 October 2020

Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics 
by Dylan Jones.
Faber, 663 pp., £20, October 2020, 978 0 571 35343 9
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... but it spread like a rash of entitlement to the North.Phil Oakey, from Sheffield, was a hospital porter; he lived for alienation, the post-industrial, David Bowie, and having a show-stopping haircut. He was the singer in the Human League. His hair was long on one side, covering the entire right half of his face, and short on the other. He ‘had the perfect ...

The War between the Diaries

John Bayley, 5 December 1985

Tolstoy’s Diaries 
translated by R.F. Christian.
Athlone, 755 pp., £45, October 1985, 0 485 11276 0
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The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy 
translated by Cathy Porter.
Cape, 1043 pp., £30, September 1985, 0 224 02270 9
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... And what am I now?’ That is almost exactly like Natasha’s exclamation at the death of Prince Andrew, which the translators weaken by paraphrase, finding its literalness too disconcerting. It should be: ‘Where is he and who is he now?’ Who is he now? Tolstoy’s sense of identity was so strong that it would obviously survive death. But because so ...

Aldermanic Depression

Andrew Saint: London is good for you, 4 February 1999

London: A History 
by Francis Sheppard.
Oxford, 442 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 19 822922 4
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London: More by Fortune than Design 
by Michael Hebbert.
Wiley, 50 pp., £17.99, April 1998, 0 471 97399 8
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... a scale that would have gladdened the ruralist heart of a Richard Jefferies. Five years ago, Roy Porter still diagnosed ‘a downward spiral of infrastructural and human problems that will prove hard to halt’. Yet now, when London has slipped way down the table of city-sizes and tours round the eerie magnificence of the Foreign Office induce a Venetian ...

Nobbled or Not

Bernard Porter: The Central African Federation, 25 May 2006

British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part I: Closer Association 1945-58 
by Philip Murphy.
Stationery Office, 448 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290586 2
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British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part II: Crisis and Dissolution 1959-65 
by Philip Murphy.
Stationery Office, 602 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290587 0
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... line which is likely to be most popular with Africans,’ the influential colonial civil servant Andrew Cohen wrote in 1951. ‘It is also our business to do what we believe is in the genuine interests of Africans.’ It went almost without saying that Africans were incapable of working this out for themselves. The charitable way of putting it was to say ...

It’s already happened

James Meek: The NHS Goes Private, 22 September 2011

... the end of a hallway lined with untidy stacks of case notes in wrinkled cardboard folders Martyn Porter, a senior surgeon and the hospital’s clinical chairman, waited in his office to be called to the operating theatre. He fixed me with an intense, tired, humorous gaze. ‘The problem with politicians is they can’t be honest,’ he said. ‘If they ...

Making sense

Denis Donoghue, 4 October 1984

A Wave 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 89 pp., £4.95, August 1984, 9780856355479
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Secret Narratives 
by Andrew Motion.
Salamander, 46 pp., £6, March 1983, 0 907540 29 5
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Liberty Tree 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 78 pp., £4, June 1983, 0 05 711302 5
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111 Poems 
by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 185 pp., £5.95, April 1983, 0 85635 457 0
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New and Selected Poems 
by James Michie.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 7011 2723 6
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By the Fisheries 
by Jeremy Reed.
Cape, 79 pp., £4, March 1984, 0 224 02154 0
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by George Mackay Brown.
Chatto, 48 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 7011 2736 8
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... itself. The admission of rival sentiments comes to appear merely a nuance of the mind’s habit. Andrew Motion’s way of making sense is to imagine something, then something else apparently quite different, and let the poem accommodate both imaginings with or without specifying the relation between them. A girl and her father, quarrelling; the girl and a ...

Updike’s Innocence

Craig Raine, 25 January 1990

Just Looking: Essays on Art 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 210 pp., £19.95, November 1989, 0 233 98501 8
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... denounce the sentimental are generally unaware of what sentiment is’. The paintings of Fairfield Porter, traditional, carried out in the teeth of Abstract Expressionism, are subjected to a stern interrogation, during which any number of flaws are stigmatised (like Porter’s difficulty with faces) before Updike can allow ...

Everything but the Glue

Richard Fortey: A Victorian sensation, 22 August 2002

Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception and Secret Authorship of ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ 
by James Secord.
Chicago, 624 pp., £22.50, February 2002, 0 226 74410 8
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... extraordinary: you can almost hear the North Country voices bickering over churchwarden pipes and porter in their private discussion groups. Secord is equally persuasive about the importance of regional institutions in the reception of ideas. Every industrial centre had its equivalent of the Halifax Mechanics’ Institution, where the aspiring thinker might ...

Issues for His Prose Style

Andrew O’Hagan: Hemingway, 7 June 2012

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Vol. I, 1907-22 
edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert Trogdon.
Cambridge, 431 pp., £30, October 2011, 978 0 521 89733 4
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... makes it to Milan, a little boy runs out and fetches him a bottle of grappa. ‘I sent for the porter and when he came I told him in Italian to get me a bottle of Cinzano at the wine shop, a fiasco of chianti and the evening papers.’ Once he’s up and ready to start courting Catherine Barkley in the style she deserves, they’re off to their favourite ...

Impossible Wishes

Michael Wood: Thomas Mann, 6 February 2003

The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann 
edited by Ritchie Robertson.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £45.50, November 2001, 9780521653107
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Thomas Mann: A Biography 
by Hermann Kurzke, translated by Leslie Willson.
Allen Lane, 582 pp., £30, January 2002, 0 7139 9500 9
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... In the same volume there is a fierce essay by Timothy Buck on the insufficiencies of Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of Mann’s writing, and even of the recent versions of Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain by John Woods. The failings are apparently mostly lexical and syntactical: ‘Knopf have once again employed a translator whose knowledge of German ...

Silly Buggers

James Fox, 7 March 1991

The Theatre of Embarrassment 
by Francis Wyndham.
Chatto, 205 pp., £15, February 1991, 0 7011 3726 6
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... Meriel McCooey, both aficionados of Hollywood musicals, could be heard breaking into duets of Cole Porter or Noël Coward – Meriel in tune, Francis undoubtedly faultless with the lyrics. At six o’clock a half-bottle of Teachers would be purchased for ‘pre-drink drinks’ – a deadline gradually pulled forward to 5.30. You would hear, at ...


Michael Wood, 23 March 1995

The Stone Raft 
by José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero.
Harvill, 263 pp., £15.99, November 1994, 0 00 271321 7
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... to sober eyes. But there would be a real liberation in it too. If we wanted to refer to Cole Porter or Philip Marlowe or Lassie, we could do it without being suspected of trying for the popular touch; if we came across Thomas Aquinas, we wouldn’t have to pretend we found the thought in an old cookbook. This may sound utopian (or nightmarish: chacun son ...

Thunder in the Mountains

J. Hoberman: Orson Welles, 6 September 2007

Orson Welles: Hello Americans 
by Simon Callow.
Vintage, 507 pp., £8.99, May 2007, 978 0 09 946261 3
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What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career 
by Joseph McBride.
Kentucky, 344 pp., $29.95, October 2006, 0 8131 2410 7
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... longer needed to modify Welles’s ‘genius’: Citizen Kane changed the course of film and, as Andrew Sarris put it, infected American cinema with the ‘virus of artistic aspiration’. Not only a brilliant, innovative picture, it dramatised – in a way no previous movie had done – the act of film-making itself. And then, after the studio butchering of ...

The Party in Government

Conor Gearty, 9 March 1995

... owner of Rugarth Investment Trust, which gave £268,099 to the Tories in 1986-8); and Sir Eric Porter (chief executive of Trafalgar House, which gave £460,000 to the Tories during the Thatcher years). The privatised industries have also been keen supporters of the party. Thames Water has taken the direct approach, reportedly giving the Tories £50,000 ...

Don’t talk to pigeons

Ben Jackson: MI5 in WW1, 22 January 2015

MI5 in the Great War 
edited by Nigel West.
Biteback, 434 pp., £25, July 2014, 978 1 84954 670 6
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... in Glasgow and berated the chief constable for having him followed. William Klare was a kitchen porter masquerading as a dentist who lived off his partner’s earnings as a prostitute. Paul Buckwaldt adopted the alias ‘Sherlock Holmes’. And Karl Hentschel – ‘such a nuisance’ in Steinhauer’s view – repeatedly blackmailed the German Secret ...

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