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Dingy Quadrilaterals

Ian Gilmour: The Profumo Case, 19 October 2006

Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir 
by David Profumo.
Murray, 291 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 7195 6608 8
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... Doctor, the Lord, the Spy’ and Profumo himself. The leader of the opposition, Harold Wilson, dubbed them ‘this dingy quadrilateral’, though, as will soon appear, a much dingier quadrilateral was composed of four very different people. The origins of the Profumo family were Sardinian. Jack Profumo’s great-grandfather, who had, the author ...


Roy Harris, 21 February 1985

Longman Dictionary of the English Language 
by Randolph Quirk.
Longman, 1875 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 582 55511 6
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The Private Lives of English Words 
by Louis Heller, Alexander Humez and Malcah Dror.
Routledge, 333 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 7102 0006 4
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The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words 
by Bill Bryson.
Viking, 173 pp., £7.95, April 1984, 0 7139 1653 2
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The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots 
by Joseph Shipley.
Johns Hopkins, 637 pp., $39.95, May 1984, 0 8018 3004 4
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A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English 
by Eric Partidge and Paul Beale.
Routledge, 1400 pp., £45, May 1984, 0 7100 9820 0
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... trollies. The diary entry in question was not published until 1984, by which time the diarist, Barbara Pym, had become a cult figure in English literary circles. By that time, too, the words blue celanese trollies needed translation. Neither celanese nor that particular meaning of trolley are to be found in the recent Longman Dictionary (the phrase being ...

Upside Down, Inside Out

Colin Kidd: The 1975 Referendum, 25 October 2018

Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain 
by Robert Saunders.
Cambridge, 509 pp., £24.99, March 2018, 978 1 108 42535 3
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... the reassuring story of the UK’s first Euro-referendum in 1975. Then, the prime minister, Harold Wilson, had gone through the motions of a renegotiation of Britain’s place in the European Economic Community and, with that token effort behind him, shepherded the forces of pragmatism to a resounding victory for remaining in the Common Market. The ...

Living with Monsters

Ferdinand Mount: PMs v. the Media, 22 April 2010

Where Power Lies: Prime Ministers v. the Media 
by Lance Price.
Simon & Schuster, 498 pp., £20, February 2010, 978 1 84737 253 6
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... magic circle of lobby men, lunching with him at St Stephen’s Club once a week. He saw Harold Wilson every week too, with the other members of the ‘White Commonwealth’, as the handpicked political editors were then called. Yet he did not grow to love or respect these great men. On the contrary, in his book he portrays most of the prime ministers he ...

Look beyond the lips

Bee Wilson: Hedy Lamarr, 28 July 2011

Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film 
by Ruth Barton.
Kentucky, 281 pp., £25.95, May 2011, 978 0 8131 2604 3
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... but Hedy Lamarr, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’. Her new surname was inspired by Barbara La Marr, a star of silent film. The ‘most beautiful’ tag came from Louis B. Mayer, who brought her to MGM with other Mitteleuropean émigrées such as Greer Garson and Ilona von Hajmassy (though the theatre director Max Reinhardt had already declared ...

At least they paid their taxes

Linda Colley, 25 July 1991

Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorised Biography 
by Kitty Kelley.
Bantam, 532 pp., £16.99, April 1991, 0 593 02450 8
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... collective heads censoriously, before regaling their readers with the same prurient stories. And Barbara Bush has done her bit for the sales by describing the book as Kitty-Litter. Even now, when the initial publicity surge is well over, it can still be seen in almost every airport lounge and railway bookstore on both sides of the Atlantic. It is still a ...

All Together Now

John Lloyd: The British Trade Union, 19 October 2000

British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics. Vol. I: The Postwar Compromise, 1945-64 
edited by John McIlroy and Nina Fishman et al.
Ashgate, 335 pp., £35, January 2000, 0 7546 0018 1
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British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics. Vol. II: The High Tide of Trade Unionism, 1964-79 
edited by John McIlroy and Nina Fishman et al.
Ashgate, 389 pp., £35, January 2000, 0 7546 0018 1
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The TUC: From the General Strike to New Unionism 
by Robert Taylor.
Palgrave, 299 pp., £45, September 2000, 0 333 93066 5
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... being closely attended to, even feared, by ministers and by the public. And it was feared. Harold Wilson’s 1964-70 and 1974-76 Governments and James Callaghan’s 1976-79 Administration spent more time cajoling, ‘standing up to’, browbeating, placating and schmoozing with union leaders than with any other group. Robert Taylor’s close account of the ...

The Fatness of Falstaff

Barbara Everett, 16 August 1990

... Histories: and I am thinking here of basic studies of the 1940s and 50s, like Dover Wilson’s The Fortunes of Falstaff, or useful popular books like Tillyard’s on Shakespeare’s History Plays.These early studies, with their monarchical interests, tended to be strongly conservative in their attitudes. They worked to defend the rejection of ...


Barbara Everett: Thinking about Hamlet, 2 September 2004

... villain, Lorenzo. By contrast, the court of Shakespeare’s play is so ambiguous a place that G. Wilson Knight, elsewhere a brilliantly sensitive critic, once notoriously argued that Claudius is a ‘good and gentle king’, whereas Hamlet is an ambassador of death invading the happy calm of the court. Wilson Knight went ...

Crossman and Social Democracy

Peter Clarke, 16 April 1981

The Backbench Diaries of Richard Crossman 
edited by Janet Morgan.
Hamish Hamilton/Cape, 1136 pp., £15, March 1981, 0 241 10440 8
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... record of the inner workings of the Labour Party during the transition from the Attlee era to the Wilson years. The period covered saw the Bevanite revolt in the early 1950s, the subsequent emergence of a revisionist critique of socialism, and the efforts by Hugh Gaitskell to fight and fight again to save the party which many of his political heirs have now ...

Poetry and Christianity

Barbara Everett, 4 February 1982

Three for Water-Music 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 69 pp., £2.95, July 1981, 0 85635 363 9
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The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse 
edited by Donald Davie.
Oxford, 319 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 19 213426 4
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... Davie’s kind, the scope widens rapidly outward from there. Our best living Shakespeare critic, Wilson Knight, has claimed Henry VIII as a great Christian drama; it would not be precisely the play that I would choose, but a similar kind of case could be made for, say, the gaol scene in Cymbeline as among the most original Christian writing of the late ...

Tell us, Solly

Tim Radford: Solly Zuckerman, 20 September 2001

Solly Zuckerman: A Scientist out of the Ordinary 
by John Peyton.
Murray, 252 pp., £22.50, May 2001, 9780719562839
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... Zuckerman had an answer, but his logic forced people to put the correct questions. In 1964, Harold Wilson asked Zuckerman to go to the House of Lords and become Minister for Disarmament. Zuckerman very sensibly calculated that he could be more use as a civil servant. In 1966, Wilson sent him to the Cabinet Office and made ...

A Little Talk in Downing St

Bee Wilson, 17 November 2016

My Darling Mr Asquith: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Venetia Stanley 
by Stefan Buczacki.
Cato and Clarke, 464 pp., £28.99, April 2016, 978 0 9934186 0 0
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... preclude taking plenty of other young married women out for special ‘drives’. One of them, Barbara Maclaren, returned from a seaside drive with the prime minister red in the face and crying. When a friend asked what had happened in the car, she wrote that he had ‘my head jammed down on to his shoulder and all his fingers in my mouth’. Was this the ...

Quiet Sinners

Bernard Porter: Imperial Spooks, 21 March 2013

Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire 
by Calder Walton.
Harper, 411 pp., £25, February 2013, 978 0 00 745796 0
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... this was ‘almost certainly wrong’. Sometimes people have reason to be paranoid. If Harold Wilson was the ‘paranoid conspiracy theorist’ Walton paints him as – it’s the almost obligatory description of him in books like this: Walton uses the word ‘paranoid’ about Wilson four times on a single page ...

‘Mmmmm’ not ‘Hmmm’

Michael Wood: Katharine Hepburn, 11 September 2003

Kate Remembered 
by A. Scott Berg.
Simon and Schuster, 318 pp., £18.99, July 2003, 0 7432 0676 2
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... Berg, the biographer of Maxwell Perkins, Sam Goldwyn, Charles Lindbergh and (in the works) Woodrow Wilson, first met Hepburn in 1982, when she was 75, and was a close friend until she died at the end of June this year. On his first visit, before they have properly met, she twice asks whether Berg has used the bathroom. He says he doesn’t need ...

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