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The Uncommon Reader

Alan Bennett, 8 March 2007

... it was the evening of the state banquet and as the president of France took his place beside Her Majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber. ‘Now that I have you to myself,’ said the Queen, smiling to left and right as they glided through the glittering throng, ‘I’ve ...


Alan Bennett: On failing to impress the queen, 5 January 2023

... his life. Mam was easy, a piece of Staffordshire would do it, cracked probably or chipped like all her antiques. Then when I was in Beyond the Fringe I reckoned I had enough money to get Dad something he really wanted, namely a decent violin. Leeds had a good violin shop, Balmforth’s, so I asked them to pick out three violins for him to try without telling ...

Maritime (1934-67)

Mick Imlah, 7 February 2002

... With a few soft words Her Majesty Christened the liner built as ‘504’: ‘I name this ship – Myself. God bless . . .’ The towering masterpiece of the Depression, She rose from the not-so-bonny Bank of Clyde (Bombed to a pit for its pains in ’41). Meanwhile, John Masefield wrote a handsome poem (‘Shredding a trackway like a mile of snow ...


Sean O’Brien, 8 December 1988

... harmless confection of elements Strapped to a duct like an art installation. The Premier sleeps in her fashion, Her Majesty, all the princesses, tucked up With the Bishops, the glueys, the DHSS, In the People’s Republic of Zeds. And you sleep at my shoulder, the cat at your feet, And deserve to be spared the irruption ...

Godmother of the Salmon

John Bayley, 9 July 1992

‘Rain-Charm for the Duchy’ and other Laureate Poems 
by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 64 pp., £12.99, June 1992, 0 571 16605 9
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... disloyalties, and it goes with the note to ‘The Dream of the Lion’, one of ‘Two Poems for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’, in which the Laureate mentions ‘my boyhood fanatic patriotism’. So everything is as it should be. What a happy coincidence, in its way, that a poet as good as Hughes should believe, and deeply and ...
Once a Jolly Bagman: Memoirs 
by Alistair McAlpine.
Weidenfeld, 269 pp., £20, March 1997, 9780297817376
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... of public money was earmarked for a new yacht for the richest woman on earth – even though Her Majesty had made it plain she did not want one? Was it this deranged belief in the popular devotion to the monarchy which finally sealed the Tories’ fate? Or was it the announcement soon afterwards by the once rational Sir George Young, Secretary of ...

Buying and Selling

Paul Foot, 6 April 1995

The Davies Report: The ‘Great Battle’ in Swansea 
by Michael Davies.
Thoemmes, 139 pp., £3.99, October 1994, 1 85506 366 2
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... reprimand. Before the report came out, Anne Maclean had bowed to the pressures to which she and her colleagues had been subjected. She accepted a year’s salary, and left – after promising never to discuss the issues which led to her departure: ‘a complete gag’, as Davies described it. Williamson and Cohen spurned ...
Governing without a Majority 
by David Butler.
Collins, 156 pp., £4.95, May 1983, 9780002170710
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Multi-Party Politics and the Constitution 
by Vernon Bogdanor.
Cambridge, 207 pp., £18.50, May 1983, 0 521 25524 4
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Decade of Dealignment 
by Bo Särlvik, Ivor Crewe, Neil Day and Robert MacDermid.
Cambridge, 393 pp., £27.50, June 1983, 0 521 22674 0
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... topicality, they will be very widely and minutely studied by politicians, students of politics and Her Majesty the Queen – or at least by her advisers. All four authors would agree that British politics have entered a new phase which is not simply an ephemeral spasm of protest, and which makes the future uncertain and ...

Austere and Manly Attributes

Patrick Collinson, 3 April 1997

The Sound of Virtue: Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’ and Elizabethan Politics 
by Blair Worden.
Yale, 406 pp., £40, October 1996, 0 300 06693 7
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... it was a prevaricating kind of appeasement, rather than the bold interventionism which many of her advisers favoured. ‘Her majesty deals so coldly in these causes,’ wrote Sir Francis Walsingham, who did not believe in the likelihood of peace in his time. In August 1578, frustrated in foreign policy, these ...


Conor Gearty: Various Forms of Sleaze, 24 November 1994

... the whole barrel is infected by sleaze. Next week, Parliament will once again be ‘opened’ by Her Majesty the Queen, having been ‘closed’ just long enough to allow MPs their mid-term break. Black Rod will be human for the day and there will be much toing and froing, loud door-banging and the like. A ‘silver stick’ will attend ...

New Faces on the Block

Jenny Diski, 27 November 1997

Venus Envy 
by Elizabeth Haiken.
Johns Hopkins, 288 pp., £20.50, January 1998, 0 8018 5763 5
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The Royal Women of Amarna: Images of Beauty From Ancient Egypt 
by Dorothea Arnold.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 192 pp., $45, February 1997, 0 8109 6504 6
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... What happened to Rosa Travers, after she’d been skinned (carbolic acid and phenol), had her nose snipped, received paraffin injections in her breasts and was irradiated to remove undesirable body hair? That would have been the first part of her prize ...

Professional Misconduct

Stephen Sedley, 17 December 2015

... higher courts ‘shall hold that office during good behaviour, subject to a power of removal by Her Majesty on an address presented to Her by both Houses of Parliament’. The formula, which comes from the Act of Settlement 1701, was intended to prevent any recurrence of the Stuart practice of dismissing judges at ...

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 ...

Strange Little Woman

Ferdinand Mount: First and Only Empress, 22 November 2018

Empress: Queen Victoria and India 
by Miles Taylor.
Yale, 388 pp., £25, August 2018, 978 0 300 11809 4
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Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent 
by Emily Hannam.
Royal Collections Trust, 256 pp., £45, June 2018, 978 1 909741 45 4
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Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-76 
by Kajal Meghani.
Royal Collections Trust, 216 pp., £29.95, March 2017, 978 1 909741 42 3
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... on the way things went. She was by turns an evangelical zealot, an enthusiast for the expansion of her empire and a passionate humanitarian. But she was never quiet. In all her mutations she left her own mark on minds and events. It is not too much to say that this ...

On a par with Nixon

Stephen Alford: Bad Queen Bess?, 17 November 2016

Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I 
by Peter Lake.
Oxford, 497 pp., £35, January 2016, 978 0 19 875399 5
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Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years 
by John Guy.
Viking, 494 pp., £25, May 2016, 978 0 670 92225 3
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... the 1590s included in the book shows Queen Elizabeth I as a puffed up hen: the only concession to Her Majesty’s dignity is the steady eye that peers out from a great ruff of feathers. More ridiculous than glamorous, Elizabeth’s pretensions are reduced to the vanities of an ageing queen. Sharp and subversive, the image is gritstone to the polished ...

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