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Signora Zabaggy

Michael Rose, 2 August 1984

All Visitors Ashore 
by C.K. Stead.
Harvill, 150 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 00 271009 9
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A Trick of the Light 
by Sebastian Faulks.
Bodley Head, 204 pp., £7.95, July 1984, 0 370 30589 2
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Dividing Lines 
by Victor Sage.
Chatto, 166 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 7011 2811 9
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... brave attempt at a taxing subject. The opening pages of A Trick of the Light give us Wyn Douglas, George Grillet, and London. Douglas, marginal urban man, a fixer, a reporter, an intriguer, scurries about the underside of the city with plans for the dispossessed. George Grillet, 25, Anglo-French, vacationing in England ...

Over the Top

Michael Howard, 8 February 1996

A Genius for War: A Life of General George Patton 
by Carlo D’Este.
HarperCollins, 977 pp., £25, November 1995, 0 00 215882 5
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... Mad, is he?’ George II is reported to have said of General Wolfe; ‘Then I wish he would bite some of my other generals!’ Both remarks might have been made about General George S. Patton Jr, and no doubt frequently were. His sanity was seriously in question. As S.L.A. Marshall, the most judicious of American military historians, put it: ‘Any man who thinks that he is the reincarnation of Hannibal or some such isn’t quite possessed of all his buttons ...

Rubbing Up

Michael Church, 7 June 1984

Growing Up 
by Russell Baker.
Sidgwick, 278 pp., £9.95, February 1984, 0 283 99056 2
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Scouse Mouse, or I never got over it: An Autobiography 
by George Melly.
Weidenfeld, 208 pp., £8.95, March 1984, 0 297 78277 0
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The Haunted Mind 
by Hallam Tennyson.
Deutsch, 238 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 233 97618 3
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... both made into vehicles for their mothers’ repressed artistic ambitions: the early histories of George Melly and Russell Baker run strikingly in parallel. Their books reveal an even more striking coincidence of form. Melly chooses, in his closing paragraph, to play affectionately along with his mother’s happy delusion that she is fifty years back in the ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, 6 October 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
directed by Tomas Alfredson.
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... go on telling us there is a mystery while the posters picture it. The posters show Gary Oldman as George Smiley – or rather they show him as Alec Guinness made a little taller, thinner, cooler. The trick, it seems, is to acknowledge Guinness’s ownership of the icon – broad horn-rimmed glasses, dark suit, tie, longish hair swept back, glazed look of the ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Hail, Caesar!’, 17 March 2016

Hail, Caesar! 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
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... about in a desert provided with triumphal arches, and a key moment when one of them, played by George Clooney, recognises the virtues of the preacher and rebel they are crucifying. Mannix’s question is ‘Does the picture of Jesus cut the mustard?’ He asks a panel diplomatically composed of four clerics: a Catholic priest, a Greek Orthodox priest, a ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Vice’, 21 February 2019

... wavers, is never confused, always knows what she thinks. She doesn’t believe Dick should accept George W. Bush’s invitation to run for vice president because it’s ‘a nothing job’. She says things like, ‘Half the world wants to be us; the other half fears us’; and, ‘If you have power people will always try to take it from you. Always.’ She ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Bette Davis, 12 August 2021

... blithe and scary ignorance, the second about her stoic acceptance of medical fact. Her doctor is George Brent, who played the killed beau in Jezebel. He is devoted to her but she refuses his proposal, because she thinks he is acting out of pity. Later they get together, and prevent each other from yawning in Vermont. The screenplay, again by Casey ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Dark Knight’ , 14 August 2008

The Dark Knight 
directed by Christopher Nolan.
July 2008
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... burning only his half of the proceeds. The background to this event is an anecdote-cum-fable that Michael Caine, as the faithful servant Alfred, tells Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne. There was a bandit in Burma, apparently, who stole jewels at will from almost everyone and was never caught – because he didn’t want and didn’t keep the jewels, he just ...

Pouting

Karl Miller: Smiley and Bingham, 9 May 2013

A Delicate Truth 
by John le Carré.
Viking, 310 pp., £18.99, April 2013, 978 0 670 92279 6
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The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham 
by Michael Jago.
Biteback, 308 pp., £20, February 2013, 978 1 84954 513 6
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... Bear of that night sky being the series of novels lit by the round English gentleman, spymaster George Smiley, he who wipes his glasses with the thick end of his unfailing tie. Among the features of these spy stories is a concern with patriotism and uncertainty, not least with the uncertainties of patriotism. There are passages which can be hard to ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Behind the Candelabra’, 4 July 2013

Behind the Candelabra 
directed by Steven Soderbergh.
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... died in 1987. In the movie the performances keep pace with the glitter and the hokum for a while. Michael Douglas as Liberace acts up onstage and off, twinkles with a coy kindness that is all self-admiration but quite fetching even so; Damon is bewildered and wary and captivated in just the right proportions, and his shift from baffled gay guy into trinketed ...

Traven identified

George Woodcock, 3 July 1980

The Man who was B. Traven 
by Will Wyatt.
Cape, 326 pp., £8.50, June 1980, 0 224 01720 9
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The Government 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 231 pp., £6.50, May 1980, 0 85031 356 2
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The Cotton-Pickers 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 200 pp., £5.50, October 1979, 0 85031 284 1
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The White Rose 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 209 pp., £6.50, May 1980, 0 85031 369 4
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... same man. The two most recent books on Traven before Mr Wyatt’s The Man who was B. Traven – Michael Baumann’s scholarly B. Traven: An Introduction and Judy Stone’s journalistic The Mystery of B. Traven – agree that Marut and Traven were the same man. Moreover, Judy Stone, who questioned Torsvan-Croves remorselessly when she visited him, was ...

His Greatest Pretend

Dinah Birch: The man behind Pan, 1 September 2005

Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie 
by Lisa Chaney.
Hutchinson, 402 pp., £20, June 2005, 0 09 179539 7
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... straddled stance became emblematic of the irresponsibility of Peter Pan, the immortal boy. George Frampton’s familiar statue in Kensington Gardens fixed the image, with the addition of pan pipes turning David’s whistle into something that fused the glamour of those Housman called the ‘lads that will die in their glory and never be old’ with the ...

Praying for an end

Michael Hofmann, 30 January 1992

Scenes from a Disturbed Childhood 
by Adam Czerniawski.
Serpent’s Tail, 167 pp., £9.99, October 1991, 1 85242 241 6
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Crossing: The Discovery of Two Islands 
by Jakov Lind.
Methuen, 222 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 413 17640 1
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The Unheeded Warning 1918-1933 
by Manes Sperber, translated by Harry Zohn.
Holmes & Meier, 216 pp., £17.95, December 1991, 0 8419 1032 4
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... which he, a Jew, had experienced at first hand, in Austria, Germany and Holland. As his friend Michael Hamburger wrote, ‘no wonder Jakov Lind has become a specialist in the monstrous!’ The Continent was insupportable, he couldn’t live in Israel, indomitable Churchillian England was the place for him. And yet what brought him over was the most ...

Opera Mundi

Michael Neve, 1 December 1983

Out of Order 
by Frank Johnson.
Robson, 256 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 86051 190 1
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Frank Johnson’s Election Year 
by Frank Johnson.
Robson, 192 pp., £6.95, October 1983, 0 86051 254 1
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Enthusiasms 
by Bernard Levin.
Cape, 264 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 224 02114 1
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Poem of the Year 
by Clive James.
Cape, 79 pp., £4.95, November 1983, 0 224 02961 4
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The Original Michael Frayn 
by Michael Frayn.
Salamander, 203 pp., £8.50, October 1983, 0 907540 32 5
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... should allow himself the chance to state a principle, as well as having the wit to hint that Lloyd George is the last PM one can imagine having a fuck. At one point he invokes Callaghan in Cardiff on 4 June this year – ‘perhaps the last Labour Prime Minister’. Callaghan is offered an umbrella against the rain. ‘“Thank you, but no. I prefer to keep ...
Once a Jolly Bagman: Memoirs 
by Alistair McAlpine.
Weidenfeld, 269 pp., £20, March 1997, 9780297817376
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... become obvious that the Tories were going to lose the election? Was it that golden moment when Michael Portillo, that scourge of unnecessary public spending, announced that £60m of public money was earmarked for a new yacht for the richest woman on earth – even though Her Majesty had made it plain she did not want one? Was it this deranged belief in the ...

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