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Christopher Hitchens states a prosecution case

Christopher Hitchens, 25 October 1990

Crossman: The Pursuit of Power 
by Anthony Howard.
Cape, 361 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 224 02592 9
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... On 22 February 1965, the fifth month of Harold Wilson’s first ministry, Richard Crossman recorded the following in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Then Harold Wilson raised the issue of Anthony Howard. He has just been appointed by the Sunday Times to be the first Whitehall correspondent in history, looking into the secrets of the Civil Service rather than leaking the secrets of the politicians ...

Punk Counterpunk

Bee Wilson, 20 November 2014

Vivienne Westwood 
by Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly.
Picador, 463 pp., £25, September 2014, 978 1 4472 5412 6
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... left Derbyshire in 1958. She was now a qualified primary school teacher with a two-year-old son, Ben, from a failed marriage to Derek Westwood, a Mod who ran dance halls and bingo halls and later became an airline pilot. Westwood was handsome: ‘You have to be interesting-looking to capture my attention!’ He may have captured it, but he didn’t hold ...

So much was expected

R.W. Johnson, 3 December 1992

Harold Wilson 
by Ben Pimlott.
HarperCollins, 811 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 00 215189 8
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Harold Wilson 
by Austen Morgan.
Pluto, 625 pp., £25, May 1992, 0 7453 0635 7
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... On 4 July 1934 Harold Wilson, an 18-year-old schoolboy waiting to go up to Oxford, proposed to Gladys Baldwin, the pretty young typist he’d first seen playing tennis only three weeks before. Gladys (who later came to prefer her second name, Mary) was somewhat bemused, particularly since Harold, already, in Pimlott’s words, ‘cheerful, boastful, absurdly sure of himself and confidently planning the future’, went on to tell Gladys that he intended to become an MP and, ultimately, prime minister ...

Protocols of Sèvres

Keith Kyle, 21 January 1988

The Failure of the Eden Government 
by Richard Lamb.
Sidgwick, 340 pp., £16.95, October 1987, 0 283 99534 3
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... of a new series to be continued with The Failure of the Macmillan Government, The Failure of the Wilson Government, The Failure of the Heath Government and so forth. As the 30-year rule uncovers the frailties of each in turn of a not particularly glorious row of administrations, opportunities will accumulate. Besides its fairly average quota of what might be ...

Ruling the Roast

David A. Bell: A Nation of Beefeaters, 25 September 2003

Beef and Liberty: Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation 
by Ben Rogers.
Chatto, 207 pp., £17.99, April 2003, 9780701169800
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... as young as two. Give it a child at an impressionable age, and it will have a customer for life. Ben Rogers is aware of food’s emotional power, and of its ability to create bonds between people. In Beef and Liberty, he has written a whimsical, amusing, informative book about the English and their favourite meat. Long before the phrase ‘you are ...

The Road to West Egg

Thomas Powers, 4 July 2013

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of ‘The Great Gatsby’ 
by Sarah Churchwell.
Virago, 306 pp., £16.99, June 2013, 978 1 84408 766 2
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The Great Gatsby 
directed by Baz Luhrmann.
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... be one of the greatest writers who have ever lived,’ Scott Fitzgerald said to his friend Edmund Wilson when they were just out of college, ‘don’t you?’ Wilson was the son of a lawyer, a bit chilly, a prodigious reader steeped in Plato and Dante. He thought Fitzgerald’s remark foolish – just what you might expect ...

Maximum Embarrassment

David Marquand, 7 May 1987

Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism 
by John Campbell.
Weidenfeld, 430 pp., £15.95, March 1987, 0 297 78998 8
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The Political Diary of Hugh Dalton: 1918-40, 1945-60 
edited by Ben Pimlott.
Cape, 752 pp., £40, January 1987, 0 224 01912 0
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... in 1951. From the start, the Kinnock-Hattersley leadership has been hemmed in by the legacy of the Wilson Government of the Sixties, and by the even more disreputable legacy of the Wilson-Callaghan Government of the Seventies. It has no incomes policy because it has been unwilling to re-open the wounds left by the 1966 wage ...
The Alternative: Politics for a Change 
edited by Ben Pimlott, Anthony Wright and Tony Flower.
W.H. Allen, 260 pp., £14.95, July 1990, 9781852271688
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... to be a right-wing ideological hegemony. The contributors to Samizdat, whose founding editor, Ben Pimlott, is one of the editors of this book, were adherents of the Labour Party, the old Alliance, the Communist Party and of no party at all. Many of the contributors still are these things, though some, like Michael Young, have returned to the Labour Party ...

From Papa in Heaven

Russell Davies, 3 September 1981

Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961 
edited by Carlos Baker.
Granada, 948 pp., £15, April 1981, 0 246 11576 9
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... will go for me on the Jewish thing. I have a lot of references to Jews, ‘the smart Jews like Ben Hecht ... It ... does not make one love the Jews any better ... Asch hit him out of kike gratitude ... I’m all for keeping out of the manuals of the Semites as long as possible’: that kind of noise. But this was conventional then, Pos, you remember. It ...

Tale from a Silver Age

Peter Clarke, 22 July 1993

Edward Heath: A Biography 
by John Campbell.
Cape, 876 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 224 02482 5
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... to remould her party in her own image, all made it necessary to denigrate Heath as much as Wilson. Now that she in turn is gone to an unquiet political grave, and is in turn held at arm’s length by Major, how is the recent history of the Conservative Party to be written and rewritten? John Campbell’s biography addresses this question with admirable ...

Don’t talk to pigeons

Ben Jackson: MI5 in WW1, 22 January 2015

MI5 in the Great War 
edited by Nigel West.
Biteback, 434 pp., £25, July 2014, 978 1 84954 670 6
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... information of a more sensitive kind. The scheme was uncovered when Kell’s deputy, Eric Holt-Wilson, overheard a man on a train talking about having received one of the letters. It was signed by F. Reimers in Potsdam, a name quickly identified as one of Steinhauer’s aliases. This kind of one-off discovery was catastrophic for German espionage because ...

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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... John Stuart Roberts’s compact and readable single volume of 1999, we now have Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s double-header, with Max Egremont’s somewhat shorter Life expected soon. Sassoon’s story has also reached a wider audience through television re-creations and through Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration. The image of the gallant officer who ...

Spending Hitler’s Money

Bee Wilson: The D-Day Spies, 19 July 2012

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies 
by Ben Macintyre.
Bloomsbury, 417 pp., £16.99, March 2012, 978 1 4088 1990 6
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... In June 1943,’ Ben Macintyre writes, the spymaster Tar Robertson ‘reached the startling conclusion that every single German agent in Britain was actually under his control. Not some, not most, but all of them.’ This changed the game of counter-espionage. As well as using their double agents defensively, to monitor German intelligence or to dupe the enemy into a false sense of security, the British were now in a position where they could actively feed lies to the Germans ...

Il Duce and the Red Alfa

Bee Wilson: Clara and Benito, 16 March 2017

Claretta: Mussolini’s Last Lover 
by R.J.B. Bosworth.
Yale, 312 pp., £18.99, February 2017, 978 0 300 21427 7
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... locket Mussolini had given her. Inscribed in it were the words: ‘Clara, I am you and you are me. Ben 24 April 1932-24 April 1941.’ What Claretta and Mussolini had in common, apart from sex, was a deep certainty that Mussolini was the greatest leader the world had seen since the death of Napoleon. When things went wrong, it was always someone ...

Gobsmacked

Michael Dobson: Shakespeare, 16 July 1998

Lyric Wonder: Rhetoric and Wit in Renaissance English Poetry 
by James Biester.
Cornell, 226 pp., £31.50, May 1997, 0 8014 3313 4
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Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and the Marvellous 
by Peter Platt.
Nebraska, 271 pp., £42.75, January 1998, 0 8032 3714 6
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Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder 
by T.G. Bishop.
Cambridge, 222 pp., £32.50, January 1996, 0 521 55086 6
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The Genius of Shakespeare 
by Jonathan Bate.
Picador, 386 pp., £20, September 1997, 0 330 35317 9
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... Soul of the age!’ exclaimed Ben Jonson in the prefatory pages of the First Folio (1616), ‘The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!’ His climactic description was elaborated in the Second Folio (1632) by the young John Milton: ‘Thou, in our wonder and astonishment/Hast built thyself a lasting monument ...

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