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John Bayley: In defence of Larkin, 22 April 1993

... as I remarked, because in so many other contexts we are adjured not to be ‘judgmental’. Even Alan Bennett in this journal, friendliest of Larkin’s reviewers, found Larkin’s family situation and father ‘grotesque’ because of the father’s pro-Nazi views. But in those days eccentrics flourished, and views of all kinds were taken to be one’s own ...


Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service, 18 April 2019

... and it crops up in depictions of funerals and memorial services in contemporary fiction. Alan Bennett’s ‘The Laying on of Hands’ opens in a High Anglican church, St Andrew Upchance near Shoreditch, for the star-studded funeral of Clive Dunlop, ‘quite young – 34 according to the dates given on the front of the Order of Service’, but ...


Alan Bennett: Bennett’s Dissection, 1 January 2009

... the treason drum and making the mistake writers on the spies always make: that the whole lives of Burgess, Blunt, Maclean and Co were taken up with spying. Maybe they should have been and had they been dutiful Marxists ought to have been. But spies have lives too, and were (even Blunt) often quite silly and like everybody else out to have a good time. Arthur ...

Scholarship and its Affiliations

Wendy Steiner, 30 March 1989

... In Alan Bennett’s A Question of Attribution, Anthony Blunt instructs Her Majesty the Queen about pictures. ‘Because something is not what it is said to be, Ma’am, does not mean it is a fake.’ ‘What is it?’ she asks. Sir Anthony gingerly suggests: ‘An enigma?’ Here as in Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, the figure of the spy illustrates the irreducibility of human and aesthetic mystery, the contradictions that all personalities enshrine, the confusion that no amount of pedantic energy can resolve ...

V.G. Kiernan on treason

V.G. Kiernan, 25 June 1987

... William Empson was stirred to an opposite kind of ire by one of many hack works, The Traitors by Alan Moorehead, who ‘specifically denounced them for having had the impudence to obey their own consciences’, instead of understanding that a citizen’s duty is ‘to concur with any herd in which he happens to find himself. The old Protestant in me ...
... Out)Anthony Thwaite(Observer)MiddlingPaul Ableman(Spectator)Peter Conrad(Harpers & Queen)Alan Hollinghurst(New Statesman)Christopher Wordsworth(Guardian)UnfavourablePaul Ableman(Spectator)Robert Cottrell(Financial Times)Martyn Goff(Daily Telegraph)John Osborne(New Standard)John Sutherland(London Review of Books)Auberon Waugh(Daily Mail)In all three ...

No more alimony, tra la la

Miranda Carter: Somerset Maugham, 17 December 2009

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham 
by Selina Hastings.
John Murray, 614 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 7195 6554 0
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... of TB in 1944, when he was 52, screaming that Maugham had ruined his life. His place was taken by Alan Searle, working-class, an autodidact, dependable but dull, whom Maugham put to work as his factotum running the Villa Mauresque, the Moorish folly on Cap Ferrat he had bought in 1926 and ran like a grand hotel. Searle was devoted, but Maugham, increasingly ...


Alan Bennett: A Round of Applause, 7 January 2021

... who had even liked the play, relating it to her own experiences in Moscow, where she had met Guy Burgess, and giving me, ready plotted, another play in An Englishman Abroad.1 December. A card from a friend, Paul Fincham, drawing my attention to a passage in Kilvert’s Diary (which I thought I’d read).New Year’s Day 1882. I went to London by the midday ...

Non-Party Man

Ross McKibbin: Stafford Cripps, 19 September 2002

The Cripps Version: The Life of Sir Stafford Cripps 
by Peter Clarke.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 7139 9390 1
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... to other scholars. The result was that the unofficial biographies by Chris Bryant (1997) and Simon Burgess (1999) – whose quality Clarke graciously acknowledges – were written without access to Cripps’s personal papers. This was unfortunate. In general, Clarke writes, the exclusion blighted rather than fostered scholarship. ‘Dame Isobel’s ...


Alan Bennett: Allelujah!, 3 January 2019

... you will be delighted to know that a pub in the Yorkshire town of Otley is to be renamed the Alan Bennett in your honour in order to celebrate Yorkshire Day.’ Fortunately this bizarre baptism is only for a month; were it longer I fear it would soon be reflected in the takings. The body responsible for this kindly gesture is the Otley Pub Club, which ...

The Biographer’s Story

Jonathan Coe, 8 September 1994

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers 
by Roger Lewis.
Century, 817 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 7126 3801 6
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... and Tati. (Anyone who doubts the honesty and pathos Sellers brought to the part should check out Alan Arkin’s dreadful Inspector Clouseau in the eponymous 1968 movie.) Of course it must be easy to allow such memories to be erased by the succession of lazy, self-indulgent performances he turned out throughout the late Sixties and Seventies. By the time he ...


Patricia Craig, 19 September 1985

But for Bunter 
by David Hughes.
Heinemann, 223 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 434 35410 4
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Bunter Sahib 
by Daniel Green.
Hodder, 272 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 340 36429 7
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The Good Terrorist 
by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 370 pp., £9.50, September 1985, 0 224 02323 3
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Unexplained Laughter 
by Alice Thomas Ellis.
Duckworth, 155 pp., £8.95, August 1985, 0 7156 2070 3
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Polaris and Other Stories 
by Fay Weldon.
Hodder, 237 pp., £8.95, August 1985, 0 340 33227 1
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... history might have been adumbrated by means of this particular figure: a delinquent one. Burgess or Blunt would have fitted the bill. But it’s clear that Hughes has been chary of apportioning waywardness to anyone other than his hero, Aitken-Bunter, to avoid displacing the classic Owl from the centre of the stage. Some decided liberties are taken ...

Going on the air

Philip French, 2 May 1985

Orwell: The War Broadcasts 
edited by W.J. West.
Duckworth/BBC, 304 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 7156 1916 0
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... range of people than he might have met elsewhere. His colleagues and BBC contemporaries included Alan Bullock (recipient of a self-righteous Orwell memo), William Empson and John Morris (both of whom wrote elegant memoirs of Orwell at the BBC); he employed Nye Bevan, Richard Acland, J.B.S. Haldane, T.S. Eliot, Quintin Hogg, Bernard Shaw; he led a BBC ...

Make use of me

Jeremy Treglown: Olivia Manning, 9 February 2006

Olivia Manning: A Life 
by Neville Braybrooke and June Braybrooke.
Chatto, 301 pp., £20, November 2004, 0 7011 7749 7
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... of Fortunes of War, the 1987 TV version of her two trilogies set in the Second World War (Anthony Burgess, a fan, called them a hexateuch), was the visual sumptuousness: the arrival in Bucharest of the train carrying the young British Council teacher and his new wife; the Athens settings of the wife’s romance with one British officer and her scrambles up ...


Hamish MacGibbon: My Father the Spy, 16 June 2011

... his case was considered of the highest possible priority. This was the time (two years before Burgess and Maclean absconded) when hugely damaging intelligence was haemorrhaging to the Soviet Union. Until MI5 interest began to wane in the mid-1950s, every letter to our house and James’s firm was opened and copied, every phone call was monitored, nearly ...

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