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Half Bird, Half Fish, Half Unicorn

Paul Foot, 16 October 1997

Peter Cook: A Biography 
by Harry Thompson.
Hodder, 516 pp., £18.99, September 1997, 0 340 64968 2
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... Service and went early to university, where he quickly established himself as a comic genius. Harry Thompson has written a serious and carefully researched biography, and his early pages can be read in perfect silence. Suddenly, however, as it reaches the early Sixties, the narrative is interspersed with indented passages of Peter Cook’s ...

Sinking Giggling into the Sea

Jonathan Coe: Giggling along with Boris, 18 July 2013

The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson 
edited by Harry Mount.
Bloomsbury, 149 pp., £9.99, June 2013, 978 1 4081 8352 6
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... least a foothold in the establishment they were criticising: in the words of Cook’s biographer, Harry Thompson, these were not rebellious outsiders but ‘young men questioning a system they had been trained to lead’ and laughing at ‘the society that had reared them’.The four cast members of Beyond the Fringe soon decamped to New York, where the ...

Spookery, Skulduggery

David Runciman: Chris Mullin, 4 April 2019

The Friends of Harry Perkins 
by Chris Mullin.
Scribner, 185 pp., £12, March 2019, 978 1 4711 8248 8
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... of that decade, it nonetheless recalled the politics of the 1970s. The novel tells the story of Harry Perkins, a Bennite leader of the Labour Party, who wins power at a general election but has it prised away from him by a conspiracy of securocrats, tycoons and Labour turncoats. Its characters were recognisable as an amalgam of the passing generation of ...

Don’t lock up the wife

E.S. Turner: Georgina Weldon, 5 October 2000

A Monkey among Crocodiles: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of Mrs Georgina Weldon 
by Brian Thompson.
HarperCollins, 304 pp., £19.99, June 2000, 0 00 257189 7
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... in 1959, by Edward Grierson, Storm Bird: The Strange Life of Georgina Weldon, which Brian Thompson commends in his bibliography as ‘genial and entertaining’. His own book is as genial as the subject will allow, often extravagantly entertaining, and as shrewd as it is well-written. After forty-odd years Mrs Weldon was well worth a second look. It ...

Convenient Death of a Hero

Arnold Rattenbury, 8 May 1997

Beyond the Frontier: the Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria 1944 
by E.P. Thompson.
Merlin/Stanford, 120 pp., £12.95, December 1996, 0 85036 457 4
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... E.P. Thompson, historian and peacemaker, known as Edward to his friends, died at his home near Worcester in 1993. Four years on, Beyond the Frontier is a volume of material set aside far earlier. Indeed, there occurs in it a passing reference to ‘the raw material for half-finished books on William Blake and Customs in Common’, works long since published ...

Scoop after Scoop

Ian Jack: Chapman Pincher’s Scoops, 4 June 2014

Dangerous to Know: A Life 
by Chapman Pincher.
Biteback, 386 pp., £20, February 2014, 978 1 84954 651 5
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... whom one has been in open conflict.’ In an essay published in the New Statesman in 1978, E.P. Thompson took a different view, imagining Pincher as ‘a kind of official urinal in which, side by side, high officials of MI5 and MI6, sea lords, permanent under-secretaries, Lord George-Brown, chiefs of the air staff, nuclear scientists, Lord Wigg and ...

Mansions in Bloom

Ruth Richardson, 23 May 1991

A Paradise out of a Common Field: The Pleasures and Plenty of the Victorian Garden 
by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards.
Century, 256 pp., £16.95, May 1990, 0 7126 2209 8
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Private Gardens of London 
by Arabella Lennox-Boyd.
Weidenfeld, 224 pp., £25, September 1990, 0 297 83025 2
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The Greatest Glasshouse: The Rainforest Recreated 
edited by Sue Minter.
HMSO, 216 pp., £25, July 1990, 0 11 250035 8
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Religion and Society in a Cotswold Vale: Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, 1780-1865 
by Albion Urdank.
California, 448 pp., $47.50, May 1990, 0 520 06670 7
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... It is beautifully produced, but falls short of the scholarship of works in this area by F.M.L. Thompson, Mark Girouard and Brent Elliott, to which it owes a great deal. The text represents an extensive trawl of material, which is presented in the form of a verbal scrapbook covering a range of topics, under headings such as ...

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 ...

Secretly Sublime

Iain Sinclair: The Great Ian Penman, 19 March 1998

Vital Signs 
by Ian Penman.
Serpent’s Tail, 374 pp., £10.99, February 1998, 1 85242 523 7
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... will chase without worrying too much what he is writing about. One of those elephantine Hunter S. Thompson, self-cannibalising careers that define the point where it all went wrong, where the floating signifier began to get above itself and spit like a snake. Penman’s value lies in the way he occupies this clerical post, as reporter, commentator, without ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, 30 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express 
directed by Kenneth Brannagh.
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... of his Shakespeare films (Hamlet, Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing), and someone who thinks his Harry Potter performance was a sad slump compared to the antics of his theatrical peers, notably those of his ex-wife Emma Thompson. He does much better with Poirot. The element of self-pastiche is never far away, but it is ...

Diary

E.P. Thompson: On the NHS, 7 May 1987

... or ‘Thou shalt wait in line and not make a personal fuss.’ The notion that Edward Thompson is dedicated to avoiding fuss will surprise my old acquaintance, not least any survivors of the leadership of the British Communist Party of 1956 or Lord (‘Flash Harry’) Butterworth, late of Warwick University. I ...

Fiction and the Poverty of Theory

John Sutherland, 20 November 1986

News from Nowhere 
by David Caute.
Hamish Hamilton, 403 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 241 11920 0
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O-Zone 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 469 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 241 11948 0
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Ticket to Ride 
by Dennis Potter.
Faber, 202 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 9780571145232
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... attachment to a set of patriarchal male intellectuals older than himself (Russell, Sartre, ‘Harry Marquis’), and another way by simple heterosexual lust for a trio of younger revolutionary women: Beth the Marxist Feminist, Esther the Rhodesian dissident and Liberty the firm-breasted, AK 47-toting black guerrilla. The narrative has lots of sexy bits of ...

Steps

E.S. Turner, 16 July 1981

An Ensign in the Peninsular War: The Letters of John Aitchison 
edited by W.F.K Thompson.
Joseph, 349 pp., £15.95, March 1981, 0 7181 1828 6
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... been easy to remain ‘a rather private man’ in the Peninsula. The writings of John Kincaid, Harry Smith and numerous others have left a picture of happy-go-lucky sparks living for ‘a good battle with bags of promotion’ and in the intervals engaging in horseplay, making mad wagers, teasing the nuns at the convent grilles, wrecking the stage ...

Diary

R.W. Johnson: Alan Taylor, Oxford Don, 8 May 1986

... Magdalen murder, and how it had been decided not to call the police in for fear of scandal. How Harry Weldon, leader of the more progressive fellows, turned down every single Etonian applicant for entry on meritocratic grounds and how the Etonians already up at the college demonstrated in the quad against Weldon, ‘the Red Dean’. How Weldon had worsted ...

All I Can Stand

Thomas Powers: Joseph Mitchell, 17 June 2015

Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Thomas Kunkel.
Random House, 384 pp., £22.50, April 2015, 978 0 375 50890 5
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... these unsettling fears but they had a way of getting into some of his New Yorker pieces. Ellery Thompson, a dragger captain out of Stonington, Connecticut, confesses in one Mitchell piece that he may look serene but he’s dreading something. ‘What?’ a sceptical woman asks. ‘I don’t know,’ says Ellery. ‘I wish to God I did know.’ He was raised ...

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