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Secrets are best kept by those who have no sense of humour

Alan Bennett: Why I turned down ‘Big Brother’, 2 January 2003

... Hopkins, who taught there. A propos Henry VII, what happened between 1485 and 1500? How did bold Harry Tudor of Bosworth Field turn into the crabbed penny-pinching accountant that is his usual representation? 24 March. A film beginning with a man being shepherded through a darkened hall; glimpses of paintings, a shaft of light on a plaster ceiling, the gleam ...

Knucklehead Truman

Douglas Johnson, 2 June 1983

The Eisenhower Diaries 
edited by Robert Ferrell.
Norton, 445 pp., £15.25, April 1983, 0 393 01432 0
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The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography 
by Thomas Reeves.
Blond and Briggs, 819 pp., £11.95, June 1983, 0 85634 131 2
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The past has another pattern 
by George Ball.
Norton, 544 pp., £14.95, September 1982, 0 393 01481 9
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Torn Lace Curtain 
by Frank Saunders and James Southwood.
Sidgwick, 361 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 283 98946 7
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The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power 
by Robert Caro.
Collins, 882 pp., £15, February 1983, 0 00 217062 0
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The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson 
by Ronnie Dugger.
Norton, 514 pp., £13.25, September 1982, 9780393015980
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Years of Upheaval 
by Henry Kissinger.
Weidenfeld/Joseph, 1312 pp., £15.95, March 1982, 0 7181 2115 5
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Richard Nixon: The Shaping of his Character 
by Fawn Brodie.
Norton, 574 pp., £14.95, October 1982, 0 393 01467 3
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Haig: The General’s Progress 
by Roger Morris.
Robson, 458 pp., £8.95, October 1982, 9780860511885
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Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President 
by Jimmy Carter.
Collins, 622 pp., £15, November 1982, 0 00 216648 8
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Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency 
by Hamilton Jordan.
Joseph, 431 pp., £12.95, November 1982, 0 7181 2248 8
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Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser 1977-81 
by Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Weidenfeld, 587 pp., £15, April 1983, 0 297 78220 7
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... phenomenon among American Presidents, and one about which they have tended to be sensitive. When Harry Truman was trying to persuade Adlai Stevenson to stand for the Presidency he had argued: ‘Adlai, if a knucklehead like me can be President and not do too badly, think what a really educated smart guy like you could do ...

Nora Barnacle: Pictor Ignotus

Sean O’Faolain, 2 August 1984

... O’Brien would, no doubt, be found listed in the morgue. Mister Smylie, who had been through this smart fandango more than once before retorted happily that ‘in that case’ he would like an obit of two hundred and fifty words on the great man for the city edition, and hung up. Unfortunately for the boy the only reporter available at that moment was a new ...
Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot 
by Michael Rogin.
California, 320 pp., $24.95, May 1996, 0 520 20407 7
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... not only Eddie Cantor, George Burns, George Jessel and Sophie Tucker, but the future movie mogul Harry Cohn, the young Walter Winchell and his own older brother. Signed by the Shubert Brothers in 1911, Jolson was the first product of the bastard forms of vaudeville and minstrel show to be legitimised on Broadway’s Great White Way, where he addressed his ...

The Devil upon Two Sticks

Charles Nicholl: Samuel Foote, 23 May 2013

Mr Foote’s Other Leg: Comedy, Tragedy and Murder in Georgian London 
by Ian Kelly.
Picador, 462 pp., £18.99, October 2012, 978 0 330 51783 6
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... whose wealthy but very dysfunctional family introduced what a later commentator called ‘a pretty smart touch of insanity’ into the Foote genes. His early years are typical enough of a spendthrift younger son battling his way out of provincial obscurity: a curtailed career at Oxford noted mainly for its bibulousness; a failed business venture in the ...

Rah, Rah, Cheers, Queers

Terry Castle: On Getting Married, 29 August 2013

... legacy, after all. What Happens in Terry Stays in Terry. Emblazoned on the slip of paper was a Harry-Potterish list of aristocratic-sounding titles that Mavis seems to have invented for the three of us (me, my sister and herself) for reasons unknown. Honorifics one might call them, or perhaps, horrorifics. Now I should explain that in my mother’s eyes ...

In the Potato Patch

Jenny Turner: Penelope Fitzgerald, 19 December 2013

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 508 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 7011 8495 7
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... a cottage in Hampstead, ‘an appealing couple in their early thirties’ living in a ‘shabby-smart bohemian environment which suited them – or suited Penelope – very well’. But ‘the Fitzgeralds – particularly Penelope – had ambitions’. In 1950 they moved to a much bigger house, doing it up with black floors, wicker balls, a gilded ...

Does one flare or cling?

Alice Spawls, 5 May 2016

‘Vogue’ 100: A Century of Style 
by Robin Muir.
National Portrait Gallery, 304 pp., £40, February 2016, 978 1 85514 561 0
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‘Vogue’ 100: A Century of Style 
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... comes into my mind, is Nessa & my jealousy of each other’s clothes! I feel her, when I put on my smart black fringed cape, anguished for a second: did I get it from Champco?’ Todd continued the Bloomsbury association – between 1923 and 1927 there were more than two hundred contributions by or about the group. Clive Bell went to the Paris ...

Shapeshifter

Ian Penman: Elvis looks for meaning, 25 September 2014

Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died 
by Dylan Jones.
Duckworth, 307 pp., £16.99, July 2014, 978 0 7156 4856 8
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Elvis Presley: A Southern Life 
by Joel Williamson.
Oxford, 384 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 19 986317 4
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... up his nose for breakfast; a tutti-frutti of eviscerating biphetamines to get the day off to a smart jog; a whole undulant funhouse spin of downs, any downs at all, for tea. And yet, and yet … Presley’s excess never feels particularly Dionysian; it seems far more a matter of exerting control. Sex and drugs were never binged things, but run always ...

I sizzle to see you

John Lahr: Cole Porter’s secret songs, 21 November 2019

The Letters of Cole Porter 
edited by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh.
Yale, 672 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 0 300 21927 2
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... were 267 shows on Broadway. The cultural mood was buoyant. Porter’s lyrics were no longer ‘too smart’ or too raffish for the cosmopolitan public.In its lavishness, the American musical traditionally made a myth of abundance – plenty in cap and bells. In the playful elegance of his word hoard, his proliferating wit and the lushness of his ...

How Utterly Depraved!

Deborah Friedell: What did Ethel know?, 1 July 2021

Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy 
by Anne Sebba.
Weidenfeld, 288 pp., £20, June, 978 0 297 87100 2
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... to give Feklisov a working proximity fuse, the crucial component in one of the world’s first ‘smart’ weapons, a precursor to the homing missile. (In 1960 one would help the Soviets bring down Gary Powers’s U2 plane.) Feklisov’s superiors were suspicious. The proximity fuse had cost a billion dollars to develop: you couldn’t just walk out of a ...

One Summer in America

Eliot Weinberger, 26 September 2019

... president comments on the election of Boris Johnson: ‘Good man. He’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying “Britain Trump”. They call him “Britain Trump”, and there’s people saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there.’*The president tweets: ‘Chairman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the ...

Barely under Control

Jenny Turner: Education: Who’s in charge?, 7 May 2015

... Union flag mask, Park View recently hosted a visit from the Royal College of Defence Studies and a Harry Potter Trivia Evening; it had a Christmas card competition, and one girl was picked to meet Prince William. The school leadership is new, the trust that oversees the running of the school has a new name and the school itself will shortly get a new name ...

Liquored-Up

Stefan Collini: Edmund Wilson, 17 November 2005

Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature 
by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 642 pp., £35, August 2005, 0 374 11312 2
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... on which he found regular employment was the monthly Vanity Fair, ‘the most successful of the “smart” magazines of the 1920s’, with a circulation that reached 80,000. Wilson had already submitted some pieces to it when, in 1920, following a sudden turnover of the magazine’s staff, his undergraduate journalism experience helped him land the post of ...

Last Night Fever

David Cannadine: The Proms, 6 September 2007

... and immaculately groomed. He was the confidant of politicians, duchesses and royalty; he loved smart parties, late-night dancing and seducing upper-class women; and he was an unrivalled showman on the podium. His nickname, ‘Flash Harry’, was a very different soubriquet from Henry Wood’s ‘Old Timber’: a ...

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