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Darkness Audible

Nicholas Spice, 11 February 1993

Benjamin Britten 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Faber, 680 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 571 14324 5
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... a surrogate mother in every relationship,’ says Elizabeth Sweeting). His ‘marriage’ to Peter Pears, begun shortly after Mrs Britten’s death, may be partly understood in this light (Pears’s singing voice, it was noted, was uncannily similar to Mrs Britten’s), as may his lifelong willingness to be looked ...

Look, I’d love one!

John Bayley, 22 October 1992

Stephen Spender: A Portrait with Background 
by Hugh David.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £17.50, October 1992, 0 434 17506 4
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More Please: An Autobiography 
by Barry Humphries.
Viking, 331 pp., £16.99, September 1992, 0 670 84008 4
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... If this is the case when the ‘facts’ are right, how much more so when they are wrong? Hugh David’s book about Stephen Spender misleads in every way, factually as well as aesthetically, although in the general welter of disinformation it is barely possible to distinguish fact from treatment. As David’s previous ...

At Pallant House

Eleanor Birne: Pauline Boty, 6 February 2014

... lead in Darling, before Julie Christie came along. She danced on Ready Steady Go!, modelled for David Bailey, introduced Bob Dylan to London, broke Peter Blake’s heart, was part-owner of a frock shop in Carnaby Street, married and gave birth to a daughter all before dying in 1966 at the age of 28. Her story was remembered but her pictures weren’t: most ...

No Strings

Bee Wilson: Pinocchio, 1 January 2009

by Carlo Collodi, translated by Geoffrey Brock.
NYRB, 189 pp., £8.99, November 2008, 978 1 59017 289 6
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... as he is about to scramble it, it hatches and the chick flies away. Geppetto gives Pinocchio the pears he has been saving for his own breakfast. When Pinocchio demands that they be peeled, Geppetto is shocked at his ‘fastidious’ palate: ‘In this world, even as children, we have to learn to eat anything and everything, and to like it.’ After Pinocchio ...

Winklepickers, Tinned Salmon, Hair Cream

Bee Wilson: Jonathan Meades, 14 July 2016

An Encyclopedia of Myself 
by Jonathan Meades.
Fourth Estate, 341 pp., £9.99, February 2015, 978 1 85702 905 5
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... or books we have read. To go to a shop armed with a scrap of paper that says ‘eggs, milk, pears’ is to believe that you have a script and are the one in charge, even if you end up getting apples instead because the pears look bad. Jonathan Meades is a writer who understands the power of lists. In An Encyclopedia ...

His Own Sort of Outsider

Philip Clark: Tippett’s Knack, 16 July 2020

Michael Tippett: The Biography 
by Oliver Soden.
Weidenfeld, 750 pp., £25, April 2019, 978 1 4746 0602 8
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... at Morley College in South London, where he staged regular concerts and hired the tenor Peter Pears, Britten’s partner, to sing the solo parts in music by Orlando Gibbons. Tippett and Britten had much in common. They were both keen to steer British music away from what they perceived as the folksy whimsy of Vaughan Williams, and had instead immersed ...

How terribly kind

Edmund White: Gilbert and George, 1 July 1999

Gilbert & George: A Portrait 
by Daniel Farson.
HarperCollins, 240 pp., £19.99, March 1999, 0 00 255857 2
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... couple (or artistic couple of any sexual stripe), as celebrated as the earlier musical duo Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, though they rigorously resist all efforts by the gay community to assimilate them. When Farson asked them for details of their sex life, George became vehement: ‘That’s part of a different story. Not part of the G–G story!’ And ...

At the Royal Academy

Eleanor Birne: Tacita Dean, 7 June 2018

... excitedly as he reads – as he always used to. A still from Tacita Dean’s film portrait of David Hockney (2016) Dean clearly has an affinity with old men. Her exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was full of them. She visits the elderly Michael Hamburger at his Suffolk farmhouse with her movie camera, zooming in on the wonky doorways, the ...


Alan Bennett: My 2006, 4 January 2007

... do. But so also do a collection of people whom I’ve never seen before, and in such numbers that David Hyde Pierce, who is presenting it, is practically elbowed out of the way. These turn out to be the backers who, of course, have every reason to be pleased and indeed one of them duly adjusts my tie. I am then bundled out through a back door and across the ...


C.K. Stead: A New Zealander in London, 18 October 1984

... I enjoy watering the beans and tomatoes, picking spinach and herbs and roses, and listening to the pears dropping. This enclave of affluence sits more or less midway between the Brixton Road and the Clapham Road – hence, I suppose, the locking and timing devices. No doubt there’s much to be said, and not all of it simply wishful, about working-class ...


Frank Kermode, 21 July 1994

The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner 
edited by Claire Harman.
Chatto, 384 pp., £25, June 1994, 0 7011 3659 6
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Sylvia and DavidThe Townsend Warner/Garnett Letters 
Sinclair-Stevenson, 246 pp., £20, June 1994, 1 85619 341 1Show More
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... from Downing College.) Warner had a hand in Powys’s rise to fame, having recommended him to David Garnett, another fantasist, whose Lady into Fox had been a great success in 1922. There seems to have been a market in those years for a peculiarly English brand of fantasy, but any imputation of parochialism must fail: Garnett was a man of wide ...

Cooking it up

Rupert Christiansen, 19 January 1989

Maria: Callas Remembered 
by Nadia Stancioff.
Sidgwick, 264 pp., £13.95, April 1988, 0 283 99645 5
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Callas at Juilliard: The Master Classes 
by John Ardoin.
Robson, 300 pp., £16.95, April 1988, 0 86051 504 4
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Callas as they saw her 
edited by David Lowe.
Robson, 264 pp., £6.95, April 1988, 9780860514961
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The Great Caruso 
by Michael Scott.
Hamish Hamilton, 322 pp., £16.95, June 1988, 0 241 11954 5
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by Victor Borovsky.
Hamish Hamilton, 630 pp., £25, April 1988, 0 241 12254 6
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... itself, or on its musical realisation, or even on the performers, but on what Ruth Berghaus or David Alden or Andrei Serban is saying about it. Or rather what images they are inflicting upon it – for the production of opera is primarily a matter of what something is made to look like. Singers rarely have any authentic acting ability and the wiser ...

Dan’s Fate

Craig Raine, 3 October 1985

Time and Time Again 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 213 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 233 97804 6
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... rough unities – a chapter arranged around his mother, a chapter touching on English themes from Pears soap to imported tutors, a lepidoptery chapter, another about journeys abroad, and so on – but the Kuropatkin interlude serves only to show how difficult it is to achieve such perfect symmetry. And perhaps also how undesirable this might be on a large ...


Tam Dalyell: Nuclear Power after Chernobyl, 5 June 1986

... on Day 167 of the Sizewell Inquiry. In the huge auditorium, indelibly associated with Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, Mr Justice Layfield presided over an inquiry the minutes of which were a lawyer’s dream. How they wallowed in it! Every detail of every pipe of every set of tubes seemed to be dissected. I came away doubting whether this form of ...

Meaningless Legs

Frank Kermode: John Gielgud, 21 June 2001

Gielgud: A Theatrical Life 1904-2000 
by Jonathan Croall.
Methuen, 579 pp., £20, November 2000, 0 413 74560 0
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John G.: The Authorised Biography of John Gielgud 
by Sheridan Morley.
Hodder, 510 pp., £20, May 2001, 0 340 36803 9
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John Gielgud: An Actor’s Life 
by Gyles Brandreth.
Sutton, 196 pp., £6.99, April 2001, 0 7509 2752 6
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... of a malign homophobic campaign that was already in progress in 1939, when Auden and Isherwood and Pears and Britten fled to America to escape it. This claim may not be quite groundless but it probably underestimates the complexity of the emigrants’ motives. And perhaps, as Morley believes, the police and the judiciary had been gradually getting tougher on ...

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