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Supermax

John Bayley, 8 December 1988

The Letters of Max Beerbohm 1892-1956 
edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Murray, 244 pp., £16.95, August 1988, 0 7195 4537 4
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The Faber Book of Letters 
edited by Felix Pryor.
Faber, 319 pp., £12.95, October 1988, 0 571 15269 4
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... their subjects. I have something in common with Joyce, and with Wilde, is the modest assumption of Richard Ellmann. Max was a bit like me, implies Cecil. That brings them, and us, all the closer to the subject. It can also lead to misunderstanding. Oddly enough, as Cecil’s admirable biography shows, both he and Max understood Oscar Wilde a good deal better ...

I just let him have his beer

Christopher Tayler: John Williams Made it Work, 19 December 2019

The Man who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, ‘Stoner’ and the Writing Life 
by Charles Shields.
Texas, 305 pp., £23.99, October 2018, 978 1 4773 1736 5
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Nothing but the Night 
by John Williams.
NYRB, 144 pp., $14.95, February 2019, 978 1 68137 307 2
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... suddenly he would break into a big smile. He was gracious, but he said what he thought.’ Like Richard Yates, a near contemporary and friend who was also famous on the writing-school circuit for not being famous, Williams served in the war and had a few unsuccessful marriages, drank too much, promoted a writerly ideal of Flaubert-like strenuousness, and ...

Make me work if you can

T.H. Breen, 18 February 1988

Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775 
by Roger Ekirch.
Oxford, 277 pp., £25, November 1987, 0 19 820092 7
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... How many people in fact found Britain’s mainland colonies a land of opportunity? The late Richard Hofstadter suggested that the answer would almost certainly not sustain the success myth. In America at 1750: A Social Portrait, a wonderfully sensitive piece of writing, he observed that the servants as well as the slaves had been commodities, goods sold ...

Delightful to be Robbed

E.S. Turner: Stand and deliver, 9 May 2002

Outlaws and Highwaymen: The Cult of the Robber in England from the Middle Ages to the 19th century 
by Gillian Spraggs.
Pimlico, 372 pp., £12.50, November 2001, 0 7126 6479 3
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... or to atone by serving in the King’s Army, but fatally drawn to highway robbery. The rector, Richard de Folville, was eventually dragged from his church by armed men and beheaded on the spot. ‘The records reveal so many thugs in holy orders,’ Spraggs writes, ‘that it has even been suggested that the astute professional malefactor may well have ...

No False Modesty

Rosemary Hill: Edith Sitwell, 20 October 2011

Edith Sitwell: Avant-Garde Poet, English Genius 
by Richard Greene.
Virago, 532 pp., £25, March 2011, 978 1 86049 967 8
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... years her local department store in Bayswater) – is one of several interesting points on which Richard Greene has nothing to say in this disappointingly flat biography. Why she did it she explained herself. It was, like so much in her life and work, the result of a famously (if productively) unhappy childhood. The Sitwells, Edith and her two younger ...

Mirror Images

Jenny Diski: Piers Morgan, 31 March 2005

The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade 
by Piers Morgan.
Ebury, 484 pp., £17.99, March 2005, 0 09 190506 0
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... entirely about being taken seriously by Elton John, Princess Diana, George Michael, Anthea Turner, Richard Branson, Paul McCartney, Patsy Kensit, Ian Botham, Jordan, Mohammed al Fayed, Cherie Blair, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair. (If there are names in that list you haven’t heard of, don’t worry, none of them matters as much as they ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2014, 8 January 2015

... on a courtesy visit to the USSR, as it then was, in 1988, a party which included Craig Raine, Paul Bailey and Timothy Mo. I don’t remember laughing more on any trip before or since; we were a very silly group, so much so that we often mystified our hosts and sometimes behaved disgracefully. Sue – and I even noticed this in the photo the Guardian used for ...

What Happened?

James Butler: Autopsy of an Election, 6 February 2020

... The tension between party members and elected representatives, however, is congenital in Labour: Richard Crossman observed in 1968 that the nominal sovereignty given to the party conference was vitiated in practice by the freedom given to MPs in matters of political judgment. Perversely, the unremitting attacks from his own MPs made it more difficult, not ...

Umpteens

Christopher Ricks, 22 November 1990

Bloomsbury Dictionary of Dedications 
edited by Adrian Room.
Bloomsbury, 354 pp., £17.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0521 7
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Unauthorised Versions: Poems and their Parodies 
edited by Kenneth Baker.
Faber, 446 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 0 571 14122 6
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The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 407 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 14470 5
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... This, so that Room can fleer: ‘But his verse hardly lingers on the lips today.’ Philip James Bailey is allowed the dedication to his Festus, and is then snibbed: ‘Today he is not only unread, but virtually unreadable.’ Robert Buchanan: ‘These samples of Buchanan’s work co-incidentally illustrate why he is now mostly unread.’ Newman’s novel ...

Utterly in Awe

Jenny Turner: Lynn Barber, 5 June 2014

A Curious Career 
by Lynn Barber.
Bloomsbury, 224 pp., £16.99, May 2014, 978 1 4088 3719 1
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... at her feet: Marianne Faithfull, the ‘Fabulous Beast’ herself, doing a photo-shoot for David Bailey, ‘sprawling with her legs wide apart, her black satin crotch glinting between her scrawny 55-year-old thighs’. Melvyn Bragg, filming his reaction shots for the South Bank Show, ‘smiling, simpering, giggling, looking down at his nails’. ...

Woof, woof

Rosemary Hill: Auberon Waugh, 7 November 2019

A Scribbler in Soho: A Celebration of Auberon Waugh 
edited by Naim Attallah.
Quartet, 341 pp., £20, January 2019, 978 0 7043 7457 7
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... to be done, it should be done properly on Wimbledon Common and not in an underhand way at the Old Bailey.’ The diary was a theatre of the absurd which Waugh occasionally took on tour in a kind of performance journalism, most notably during the 1979 general election. This was part of his ‘oblique, crablike’ pursuit of Jeremy Thorpe, the former leader of ...

Rigging the Death Rate

Paul Taylor, 11 April 2013

... to tell their stories’. Many such stories had been collected by campaigners like Julie Bailey, a café-owner whose mother died in Stafford Hospital after being treated with callous incompetence. In November 2007, Bailey founded a pressure group called Cure the NHS and began to gather reports of patients left to ...

Mad Monk

Jenny Diski: Not going to the movies, 6 February 2003

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 963 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 316 85905 2
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Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Anthony Lane.
Picador, 752 pp., £15.99, November 2002, 0 330 49182 2
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Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film 
by Peter Wollen.
Verso, 314 pp., £13, December 2002, 1 85984 391 3
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... be a biographical dictionary of an array of fictional characters from great movies: the likes of Richard Blaine and Ilsa Lund, George Bailey, Travis Bickle and Norman Bates, who turn out, in the interstices of the entries, to have entangled lives and a dark plot all of their own. If only Howard Hawks wasn’t dead and had ...

Blame Robert Maxwell

Frederick Wilmot-Smith: How Public Inquiries Go Wrong, 17 March 2016

... be made in future inquiries. Chilcot has called Maxwellisation ‘normal practice’; Andrew Bailey and Brian Pomeroy, who are leading an inquiry into the near demise of HBOS, have said that it is ‘legally required’. Our law is such that custom slides silently into obligation. But in fact Maxwellisation is a recent innovation, barely customary, and ...

Where will we live?

James Meek: The Housing Disaster, 9 January 2014

... Council for the project, built between 1955 and 1966, were the trio of Francis Skinner, Douglas Bailey and an elder mentor, the legendary bringer of the torch of modern architecture to Britain from Europe, Berthold Lubetkin. There’s a received idea that Lubetkin was only peripherally involved in the design of Cranbrook. He was living in rural ...

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