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The Illiberal Hour

Mark Bonham-Carter

7 March 1985
Black and White Britain: The Third Survey 
by Colin Brown.
PSI/Heinemann, 331 pp., £22.50, September 1984, 0 435 83124 0
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... The Act had been more effective in housing and, especially, in house purchase than in employment – a result which none of us would have foreseen. The third survey, Block and White Britain by ColinBrown, was published recently, the bulk of the fieldwork having been done in 1981/82. The author sees his main task as providing a factual base for discussion and understanding, and he is concerned ...

Some of them can read

Sean Wilsey: Rats!

17 March 2005
Rats: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants 
by Robert Sullivan.
Granta, 242 pp., £12.99, January 2005, 1 86207 761 4
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... make terrifyingly good reading for an expectant father. The first thing I read was ‘Rats on the Waterfront’, the mother of all New York rat pieces, by the great reporter Joseph Mitchell: The brown rat is hostile to other kinds; it usually attacks them on sight. It kills them by biting their throats or by clawing them to pieces, and, if hungry, it eats them … All rats are vandals, but the ...

Brown​ v. Salmond

Colin​ Kidd: The Scottish Elections

26 April 2007
... wing intellectuals. Printed in blindingly small type, The Red Paper was published on the cheap for Edinburgh University Student Publications and edited by the university’s student rector, Gordon Brown. Brown did not succumb to nationalism, of course, but he attempted to reformulate the Labour agenda to take account of Scotland’s national peculiarities. The Red Paper had an immediate impact on ...

Getting on

Patricia Craig

17 September 1987
The Golden Bird: Two Orkney Stories 
by George Mackay Brown.
Murray, 226 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 7195 4385 1
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The Upper Hand 
by Stuart Hood.
Carcanet, 186 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 85635 719 7
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Dreams of Dead Women’s Handbags 
by Shena Mackay.
Heinemann, 160 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 434 44044 2
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... the early 1960s, for example, Irish-language enthusiasts opposed the introduction of television into the Gaedhaltacht areas of Donegal, out of apprehension about its Anglicising effect. George Mackay Brown’s Orkney is an unfamiliar, off-shore locality in which everything seems a little richer through being both concentrated and chancy. How long can its distinctive character survive? It was endangered ...


Andrew O’Hagan: How the Homing Pigeons Lost Their Way

12 December 1996
... most young children expend this mimic genius in coming to look like their mothers or, even worse, their fathers, and most elderly people use it up in the act of becoming their children. Colin Osman is a retired gentleman who lives in Cockfosters. His plumage is white and grey; his eyes are fast-moving; and his body is wonderfully puffed-up and proud. Mr Osman has devoted much of his life ...

Around Here

Alice Spawls: Drifting into the picture

4 February 2016
... large plane tree ought to be, the scene looks just as it does now, in the thinnest light of the year. The museum is mottled still, and there are moments when everything seems to emerge in purple and brown, and the thin branches of the trees make a haze against the blank sky. The sensation – of the painting imposing itself on reality – must be like Wordsworth’s experience of two consciousnesses ...

The Irresistible Itch

Colin​ Kidd: Vandals in Bow Ties

3 December 2009
Personal Responsibility: Why It Matters 
by Alexander Brown.
Continuum, 214 pp., £12.99, September 2009, 978 1 84706 399 1
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... and the minority SNP executive has tried to address Scotland’s serious drink problem. Yet the subject possesses the greatest allure for social conservatives. However, as the philosopher Alexander Brown shows in Personal Responsibility, the subject is more slippery than politicians imagine. How should society determine whether someone’s circumstances mean that they are deserving of its support ...


Colin​ Burrow: Two Novels about Lost Bellinis

14 August 2008
The Bellini Card 
by Jason Goodwin.
Faber, 306 pp., £12.99, July 2008, 978 0 571 23992 4
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The Bellini Madonna 
by Elizabeth Lowry.
Quercus, 343 pp., July 2008, 978 1 84724 364 5
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... Albrecht Dürer supposedly wrote during his second visit to Venice in 1506: Then I realised that the lady herself was no longer young, but well past the age of childbearing, and that her narrow brown face had the finely quilted texture that you see on the faces of ageing women in hot countries. Her robe was leaden black and the dress beneath was neither blue nor red, but a souring white. Yet it ...
22 November 2012
Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor 
by Jack Straw.
Macmillan, 582 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 4472 2275 0
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... coy about his own role in all this, particularly his involvement in ‘security’ legislation, some of which was too much even for Parliament, and did a lot to damage the reputation of the Blair and Brown governments. After the 2001 election Blair decided that Robin Cook was insufficiently on message and replaced him with Straw, which meant that Straw was in the Foreign Office throughout the Iraq War ...

Growing up

Dinah Birch

20 April 1989
Passing on 
by Penelope Lively.
Deutsch, 210 pp., £10.95, April 1989, 0 233 98388 0
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The man who wasn’t there 
by Pat Barker.
Virago, 158 pp., £10.95, March 1989, 0 86068 891 7
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The Sugar Mother 
by Elizabeth Jolley.
Viking, 210 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 670 82435 6
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Give them all my love 
by Gillian Tindall.
Hutchinson, 244 pp., £11.95, April 1989, 0 09 173919 5
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Storm in the Citadel 
by Kate Saunders.
Cape, 293 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 224 02606 2
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... her final withdrawal into the silence of mortality. Even in a deceased condition, she has more go in her than the supposedly defiant Phil, who is chiefly interesting as a speculation on what William Brown might have been like if he’d ever been allowed to reach adolescence (‘Basically, I jus’ eat fish and chips’). Passing on speaks persuasively about the echoing spaces of remembrance, and the ...

Triumph of the Termites

Tom Nairn: Gordon Brown

8 April 2010
The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour 
by Andrew Rawnsley.
Viking, 802 pp., £25, March 2010, 978 0 670 91851 5
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What Went Wrong, Gordon Brown?: How the Dream Job Turned Sour 
edited by Colin​ Hughes.
Guardian, 294 pp., £8.99, January 2010, 978 0 85265 219 0
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Broonland: The Last Days of Gordon Brown 
by Christopher Harvie.
Verso, 206 pp., £8.99, February 2010, 978 1 84467 439 8
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... Much of the tale is conveyed by the covers. A sad, thoughtfully dithering photo of the prime minister fronts What Went Wrong, Gordon Brown? The cover of Christopher Harvie’s book features a cartoon from the Independent: an apocalyptic lightning flash strikes and anoints David Cameron, while Brown and Alistair Darling flee London as ...

Mother One, Mother Two

Jeremy Harding: A memoir

31 March 2005
... To think back at all is to fall quickly, almost instinctively, on two names – Colin, the name of my adoptive father, and Maureen, the name of my adoptive mother – and on the significant word ‘adopted’, which has the weight of a name. Appended to this little trio of terms, like ...

Through Plate-Glass

Ian Sansom: Jonathan Coe

10 May 2001
The Rotters’ Club 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 405 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 670 89252 1
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... of a conscience, and thus to be valued, and Coe is nothing if not conscientious, and admirable. Or lovable. He is happy to admit to the various and necessary time-saving devices, back-scratchings and brown-nosings that other writers do their best to disavow. At the end of What a Carve Up! (1994) Coe acknowledges the work of Frank King, and writes: ‘the only repayment I can offer him is to recommend ...


Christopher Hitchens: Men (and Women) of the Year

14 December 1995
... fashionable charity named United Cerebral Palsy is having an ‘awards’ event. I think that the winners must have been picked some time ago. The ‘outstanding achievement’ prize goes to General Colin Powell, and will be presented by Barbara Walters. The ‘humanitarian’ award goes to Diana Spencer and will be presented by Henry Kissinger. In other words, a single well-placed grenade could ...

Always the Same Dream

Ferdinand Mount: Princess Margaret

4 January 2018
Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret 
by Craig Brown.
Fourth Estate, 423 pp., £16.99, September 2017, 978 0 00 820361 0
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... three playboys, only one playgirl. Princess Margaret, followed by Peter Townsend, in 1953. It is 15 years since she died, and memories of her are not as sharp as they were. Which makes Craig Brown’s enterprise not only a marvellous freak of literature but a matchless summoner of our yesterdays. It is a collage, montage or bricolage of glittery bits culled from two hundred biographies ...

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