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Frank Kermode: What Went On at the Arts Council, 4 December 1986

... Roy Shaw will not have expected an easy passage as Secretary-General of the Arts Council, but the weather worsened steadily during his tenure, and the discomfort exceeded all rational apprehensions. His book explains why this was so.* The directorate of the Council exists primarily to make judgments of value; it is required, having taken the best advice available, to decide which enterprises deserve public support, and to what extent ...

Shades of Peterloo

Ferdinand Mount: Indecent Government, 7 July 2022

Conspiracy on Cato Street: A Tale of Liberty and Revolution in Regency London 
by Vic Gatrell.
Cambridge, 451 pp., £25, May, 978 1 108 83848 1
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... but as home secretary he came into his own.One of Sidmouth’s spies, a man called John Castle, was on the action committee responsible for organising the huge and supposedly peaceful meeting of reformers on Spa Fields that was to be addressed by the mellifluous Orator Hunt. Castle tirelessly whipped up the labourers who had just been laid off ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’, 6 August 2009

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three 
directed by Tony Scott.
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... The chief pleasure of the new version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is the sight of John Travolta as the model bad guy. He is genial and livid by turns, entirely persuasive in both moods, the very image of crazed behaviour, and far more engaging and unhinged than he was in Pulp Fiction. That film brought certain of his earlier roles to mind, but this one makes us want to rethink Grease entirely, and maybe the whole genre of the musical ...


A.J.P. Taylor: Problems for the Solitary Housekeeper , 3 March 1983

... to do at an Anglican service: MacDonald was much at sea and missed some of his cues. Then came John Galsworthy and Bernard Shaw, presumably the literary kings of the time. Galsworthy behaved impeccably, doing everything absolutely right. Shaw got enjoyment by looking around most of the ...

Exit Humbug

David Edgar: Theatrical Families, 1 January 2009

A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 620 pp., £25, September 2008, 978 0 7011 7987 8
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... his death in 1905, Terry extended her range, not least into the work of her correspondent Bernard Shaw. She died, a national treasure, in 1928. The succeeding generation followed their parents into the business, though inevitably they were overshadowed. Laurence and Harry Irving were both actors (the former was a playwright as well). Terry’s daughter, Edith ...


Blake Morrison, 30 June 2011

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp 
by W.H. Davies.
Amberley, 192 pp., £14.99, September 2010, 978 1 84868 980 0
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... many have been. Max Beerbohm was, when at a dinner party he asked Davies, ‘How long is it since Shaw discovered you?’; on being told it was 13 or 14 years, he replied, ‘Oh dear dear – and has it been going on all this time?’ and added that Shaw had obviously ‘helped a lame dog over the stile’. The insult was ...

Respectful Perversion

John Pemble: Gilbert and Sullivan, 16 June 2011

Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody 
by Carolyn Williams.
Columbia, 454 pp., £24, January 2011, 978 0 231 14804 7
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... bourgeoisie at their most genteel, sentimental and dressy. Nothing more exasperated George Bernard Shaw than Sullivan’s habit of conducting in gloves, and nothing more exasperated Sullivan than Gilbert’s inverted universe of puppets and paradox. Regiments led from behind, sons older than their mothers, dysfunctional utopias, flying peers and elliptical ...

Tomorrow they’ll boo

John Simon: Strindberg, 25 October 2012

Strindberg: A Life 
by Sue Prideaux.
Yale, 371 pp., £25, February 2012, 978 0 300 13693 7
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... the ten thousand or so letters. He lived for 63 years, yet wrote sixty-odd plays, equalling Shaw, who lived thirty years longer. And not only plays: novels, memoirs, poetry, essays. He was also a superb painter. He led a complicated life with manifold pursuits to which Sue Prideaux’s Strindberg: A Life does condign justice. She is ...

Her Haunted Heart

John Lahr: Billie Holiday, 20 December 2018

Lady Sings the Blues 
by Billie Holiday.
Penguin, 179 pp., £9.99, November 2018, 978 0 241 35129 1
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... life. ‘She was always shooting towards tragedy,’ said the virtuoso clarinettist Artie Shaw, whose band she briefly sang for. ‘It was just a question of how and when.’ Billie Holiday with Louis Armstrong and Barney Bigard in 1947. Singing stops stuttering. In Holiday’s case, it stopped loneliness by making art out of the indigestible ...

Life Soup

Liam Shaw: Slime!, 21 April 2022

Slime: A Natural History 
by Susanne Wedlich, translated by Ayça Türkoğlu.
Granta, 326 pp., £20, November 2021, 978 1 78378 670 1
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... to hallucinate three or four crabs who followed him around for a year. Each morning, he later told John Gerassi, he would greet them: ‘My little ones, how did you sleep?’ He got used to the crabs, but other sea creatures – molluscs in particular – remained objects of horror. Sliminess had something to do with it. Being and Nothingness (1943) concludes ...

Through the Mill

Jane Humphries: The Industrial Revolution, 20 March 2014

Liberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution 
by Emma Griffin.
Yale, 303 pp., £12.99, March 2014, 978 0 300 20525 1
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... In​ 1836, Benjamin Shaw looked back on a life of toil in the textile factories of the North-East. He was a skilled worker, but had lived in poverty for years, buried his wife and four of his children, had a leg amputated (diseased as a result of unhealthy working conditions), and been left to care for his illegitimate orphaned granddaughter ...


John Sutherland, 5 November 1992

Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 09 174263 3
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Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy 
by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 273 pp., £27.50, June 1992, 0 19 811276 9
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The Last Laugh 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 131 pp., £10.99, December 1991, 0 7011 4583 8
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by Victoria Glendinning.
Hutchinson, 551 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 09 173896 2
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... this time in a more objectively historical context. Hamilton offers 22 case studies, from John Donne – the first properly biographed English author – to Philip Larkin of last month’s Observer fame. Hamilton could not, if he tried, write an unreadable book. Keepers of the Flame is that rarest of modern things, lit crit with laughs. Hamilton has ...

I’m not an actress

Michael Newton: Ava Gardner, 7 September 2006

Ava Gardner 
by Lee Server.
Bloomsbury, 551 pp., £20, April 2006, 0 7475 6547 3
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... knew the value of cash, but more out of a refusal to be sold at market. Husband No. 2 was Artie Shaw, the band-leader. Rooney looked up to her; Hughes stalked her; Artie Shaw tried to educate her. Shaw was an insufferable intellectual. He oppressed her with psychoanalysis and ...

£ … per incident

Melanie McFadyean: Suicides in immigration detention, 16 November 2006

Driven to Desperate Measures 
by Harmit Athwal.
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... commend good practice but are frequently critical. The prisons and probation ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, reported on Oakington in July 2005 after a BBC documentary, Detention Undercover: The Real Story, exposed instances of racism and abuse by detention custody officers (DCOs) employed by GSL. Shaw, who believes that the ...

Baby Face

John Bayley, 24 May 1990

William Gerhardie: A Biography 
by Dido Davies.
Oxford, 411 pp., £25, April 1990, 0 19 211794 7
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Memoirs of a Polyglot 
by William Gerhardie.
Robin Clark, 381 pp., £5.95, April 1990, 0 86072 111 6
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by William Gerhardie.
Robin Clark, 198 pp., £4.95, April 1990, 0 86072 112 4
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God’s Fifth Column: A Biography of the Age 1890-1940 
by William Gerhardie, edited by Michael Holroyd and Robert Skidelsky.
Hogarth, 360 pp., £8.95, April 1990, 0 7012 0887 2
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... lionised and invited everywhere, but on a basis of mild but permanent misunderstanding. Bernard Shaw, he noticed, had a red nose and he wondered whether the famous abstinence was really as severe as claimed. Shaw said to him: ‘If you’re English you’re a genius, but if you’re Russian ... well then ... of course ...

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