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Double-Barrelled Dolts

Ferdinand Mount: Mosley’s Lost Deposit, 6 July 2006

Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism 
by Stephen Dorril.
Viking, 717 pp., £30, April 2006, 0 670 86999 6
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Hurrah for the Blackshirts! Fascists and Fascism between the Wars 
by Martin Pugh.
Pimlico, 387 pp., £8.99, March 2006, 1 84413 087 8
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... It is 26 years since Oswald Mosley breathed his last at the Temple de la Gloire, the athletic frame which he had once so proudly flexed now sadly bloated, his piercing eyes shrunk to peepholes, the sinister moustache long shaven. It is 66 years since Churchill brought his serious political career to an abrupt end by interning him in Brixton jail. Yet Mosley never quite stops haunting us ...

The Doctrine of Unripe Time

Ferdinand Mount: The Fifties, 16 November 2006

Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties 
by Peter Hennessy.
Allen Lane, 740 pp., £30, October 2006, 0 7139 9571 8
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... When did decaditis first strike? When did people begin to think that slicing the past up into periods of ten years was a useful thing to do? Historians used to deal in reigns and centuries, and it had long been agreed that these might have their own distinctive flavour, including the one that you happened to be living in – Tennyson in 1846 referred, ironically, to ‘a noble 19th-centuryism ...

Too Obviously Cleverer

Ferdinand Mount: Harold Macmillan, 8 September 2011

Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan 
by D.R. Thorpe.
Pimlico, 887 pp., £16.99, September 2011, 978 1 84413 541 7
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The Macmillan Diaries Vol. II: Prime Minister and After 1957-66 
edited by Peter Catterall.
Macmillan, 758 pp., £40, May 2011, 978 1 4050 4721 0
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... The first thing about Harold Macmillan was his bravery, and it was the last thing too. In the Great War he was wounded five times, at the Battle of Loos and at the Somme. At Delville Wood he was hit in the thigh and pelvis and rolled down into a large shell-hole, where he lay for the next ten hours, alternately dosing himself with morphine and reading Aeschylus ...

Trouble down there

Ferdinand Mount: Tea with Sassoon, 7 August 2003

Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet 1886-1918 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 600 pp., £9.99, September 2002, 0 7156 2894 1
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Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey from the Trenches 1918-67 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 526 pp., £30, April 2003, 0 7156 2971 9
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Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybil 
by Peter Stansky.
Yale, 295 pp., £25, April 2003, 0 300 09547 3
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... My father had no gun, or any land to shoot over. So when he decided that it was time for me, then aged 15 or 16, to learn how to shoot, he had to cadge. We borrowed an old 12-bore from a local farmer, a rickety weapon the lock, stock and barrel of which were barely connected, and my father then asked his neighbour, Siegfried Sassoon, who lived in the next village, whether we could loose off a few cartridges in his woods ...

Why we go to war

Ferdinand Mount, 6 June 2019

... You can see​ the twin slagheaps from almost every corner of the battlefield. If there is one memorable emblem of the Battle of Loos, it is these double crassiers, a little altered in outline since 1915 but as dominant as ever over the mournful plain. For British soldiers then, the other landmark was the huge pithead lift they nicknamed Tower Bridge, used as an observation post by the Germans, and then, after the Allies had at terrible cost secured the necessary few hundred yards, by the British for the same purpose, the terrain now honeycombed by the trenches and mines of warfare as well as by those of the prewar coal pits ...

They would have laughed

Ferdinand Mount: The Massacre at Amritsar, 4 April 2019

Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre 
by Kim A. Wagner.
Yale, 325 pp., £20, February 2019, 978 0 300 20035 5
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... Thirty seconds​ after he first entered the Jallianwala Bagh, he ordered his men to open fire. There was no word of warning to the crowd, not a gesture. ‘My mind was made up as I came along in my motor car. If my orders were not obeyed, I would open fire immediately.’ After a bit, Sergeant Anderson, General Dyer’s personal bodyguard, ‘noticed that Captain Briggs was drawing up his face as if in pain, and was plucking at the general’s elbow ...

The Seducer

Ferdinand Mount: De Gaulle, 2 August 2018

A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle 
by Julian Jackson.
Allen Lane, 887 pp., £35, June 2018, 978 1 84614 351 9
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... We went down​ to the beach quite early. The other families staying at St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie in the summer of 1951 were mostly French. Several of them had those early portable radios, chunky wooden boxes covered in rexine (I had just been given a dark-green one for my 12th birthday but had left it at home). We had not been on the beach long before the radios seemed to be squawking louder than usual, and there was a strange commotion around us ...


Ferdinand Mount: Staffing the Raj, 7 September 2017

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India 
by Shashi Tharoor.
Hurst, 295 pp., £20, March 2017, 978 1 84904 808 8
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The Making of India: The Untold Story of British Enterprise 
by Kartar Lalvani.
Bloomsbury, 433 pp., £25, March 2016, 978 1 4729 2482 7
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India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire 
by Jon Wilson.
Simon & Schuster, 564 pp., £12.99, August 2017, 978 1 4711 0126 7
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... I believe as strongly as I believe anything that you oughtn’t to go. Have you thought enough of the horror of the solitude and the wretchedness of every single creature out there and the degrading influences of those years away from civilisation? I’ve had experience – I’ve seen my brothers and what’s happened to them, and it’s sickening to think of ...

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount, 20 February 2020

... For​ Leavers at least, the morning of 1 February ought to have been like ‘swimmers into cleanness leaping’ (though, come to think of it, that didn’t go so well the first time). For Remainers, it was always going to be a case of ‘ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain,/On the bald street breaks the blank day.’ What was surprising, then, was that some Leavers too were a little fractious ...

You are a milksop

Ferdinand Mount, 7 May 2020

Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate 
by Paul Lay.
Head of Zeus, 352 pp., £30, January, 978 1 78185 256 9
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... Come, come, I will put an end to your prating.’ Then, walking up and down the House of Commons like a madman, and kicking the ground with his feet, he cries out, ‘You are no Parliament, I say you are no Parliament, I will put an end to your sitting. Call them in, call them in.’ The Serjeant opens the doors and two files of musketeers tramp into the House ...

Always the Same Dream

Ferdinand Mount: Princess Margaret, 4 January 2018

Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret 
by Craig Brown.
Fourth Estate, 423 pp., £16.99, September 2017, 978 0 00 820361 0
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... You need​ to be over seventy now to remember the awful thrill of the announcement: ‘I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend.’ For the older generation, Princess Margaret was the unlucky princess. She was our Diana: capricious, passionate, vindictive, doomed to fall in love with rotters, the breakaway royal who hung out with actors and rogues and who was frozen out by a cold-hearted court, finding contentment only in her hospital work and her two children ...

No Innovations in My Time

Ferdinand Mount: George III, 16 December 2021

George III: The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch 
by Andrew Roberts.
Allen Lane, 763 pp., £35, October, 978 0 241 41333 3
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... On​ Christmas Day 1788, the king hid his bedclothes under the bed, put a pillowcase on his head and hugged the pillow, which he called Prince Octavius and said had just been born (Prince Octavius had died five years earlier at the age of four). When George realised what day it was and that he had been kept in his straitjacket and not allowed to go to church, he suddenly went under the sofa, saying that he would converse with his saviour there, and that no one was to interrupt them ...

Ruthless and Truthless

Ferdinand Mount: Rotten Government, 6 May 2021

The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism 
by Peter Oborne.
Simon and Schuster, 192 pp., £12.99, February, 978 1 3985 0100 3
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Political Advice: Past, Present and Future 
edited by Colin Kidd and Jacqueline Rose.
I.B. Tauris, 240 pp., £21.99, February, 978 1 83860 120 1
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... There was​ always something a little weird about the scene: the heavy lectern hurriedly dragged out into the street from behind the famous front door, as though the premises were suddenly out of action because of flood damage or a bomb threat; on the other side of the road, the hacks and the pap pack awkwardly mustered and jostling for position. And the statement itself, all too obviously scrabbled together by some sleep-deprived spad, failing to match the historic significance of the occasion – an election lost or won, a leader toppled or triumphant ...

From Swindon to Swindon

Mary Beard, 17 February 2011

Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us 
by Ferdinand Mount.
Simon and Schuster, 438 pp., £20, June 2010, 978 1 84737 798 2
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... be enticed away from bathing in the Cam (and certainly not if the alternative cost two and six). Ferdinand Mount, who discusses the 19th-century reinvention of Roman bathing in the first chapter of Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us, takes a different view. He puts the failure down to the fact that most of the academics were still in ...

When the Jaw-Jaw Failed

Miles Taylor: Company Rule in India, 3 March 2016

The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 
by Ferdinand Mount.
Simon & Schuster, 784 pp., £12.99, January 2016, 978 1 4711 2946 9
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... of Low’s other descendants – and another of Cameron’s relatives – was ready to respond. Ferdinand Mount is the great-great-grandchild of John Low (and a cousin of the prime minister’s mother). In The Tears of the Rajas, he doesn’t try to set the family record straight, but blends the history of British India with the story of the Lows and ...

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