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Churchill by moonlight

Paul Addison, 7 November 1985

The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955 
by John Colville.
Hodder, 796 pp., £14.95, September 1985, 0 340 38296 1
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... Except for two years as a fighter pilot in the RAF, John Colville was Churchill’s Private Secretary throughout the war, and again during his peacetime premiership of 1951-5. Some readers will enjoy his diaries mainly as a portrait of Churchill, whose blazing presence and wealth of eccentricity light up almost every page ...

Ruthless Young Man

Michael Brock, 14 September 1989

Churchill: 1874-1922 
by Frederick Earl of Birkenhead, edited by Sir John Colville.
Harrap, 552 pp., £19.95, August 1989, 0 245 54779 7
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... young in 1985. Robin Birkenhead’s draft extended to the end of 1940. It had been shown to Sir John Colville, who was asked to finish the story. He declined, but wrote an epilogue giving his own view of the Churchill he had known. He died suddenly in October 1987, having just completed the Foreword to the book now published. Robin Birkenhead ...

Bugger everyone

R.W. Johnson: The prime ministers 1945-2000, 19 October 2000

The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders since 1945 
by Peter Hennessy.
Allen Lane, 686 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7139 9340 5
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... champagne and brandy . . . to incapacitate any lesser man’, as his private secretary John Colville put it. He would talk to ministers with Toby, his budgie, alighting (and sometimes doing more than that) on their heads. He had frequent sleeps. His method of dealing with crises, he explained, was to ‘turn out the light, say “bugger ...

Wafted to India

Richard Gott: Unlucky Wavell, 5 October 2006

Wavell: Soldier and Statesman 
by Victoria Schofield.
Murray, 512 pp., £30, March 2006, 0 7195 6320 8
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... of mental vigour and resolve to overcome obstacles, which is indispensable to successful war.’ John Colville, Churchill’s secretary, recorded that ‘Churchill tried his hardest to elicit the general’s views and was met with the silence of shyness,’ while Wavell thought Churchill’s tactical ideas had got stuck somewhere around the time ...

Baring his teeth

Peter Clarke, 25 June 1992

The Macmillans: The Story of a Dynasty 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Heinemann, 370 pp., £18.50, April 1992, 0 434 17502 1
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... compensates for any parsimony in the archival evidence available to him. For example, in 1945 Sir John Colville recorded in his diary, since published and now firmly in the public domain: ‘I don’t like the would-be ingratiating way in which Macmillan bares his teeth.’ Davenport-Hines digresses at some length, starting from the observation that ...

Already a Member

R.W. Johnson: Clement Attlee, 11 September 2014

Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister 
by Michael Jago.
Biteback, 390 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 84954 683 6
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... and so on. ‘The old school tie counted even more in Labour than in Conservative circles,’ John Colville observed. Despite the book’s title, he was anything but ‘the inevitable prime minister’. It isn’t just a matter of his undoubted conservatism on the matters listed above. After Oxford he had started to train as a lawyer but got ...

Lucky Kim

Christopher Hitchens, 23 February 1995

The Philby Files. The Secret Life of the Master Spy: KGB Archives Revealed 
by Genrikh Borovik, edited by Phillip Knightley.
Little, Brown, 382 pp., £18.99, September 1994, 0 316 91015 5
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The Fifth Man 
by Roland Perry.
Sidgwick, 486 pp., £16.99, October 1994, 0 283 06216 9
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Treason in the Blood: H. St John Philby, Kim Philby and the Spy Case of the Century 
by Anthony Cave Brown.
Hale, 640 pp., £25, January 1995, 9780709055822
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My Five Cambridge Friends 
by Yuri Modin.
Headline, 328 pp., £17.99, October 1994, 0 7472 1280 5
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Looking for Mr Nobody: The Secret Life of Goronwy Rees 
by Jenny Rees.
Weidenfeld, 291 pp., £18.99, October 1994, 0 297 81430 3
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... bipolar Kulturkampf, it did leak out to a wide public through the fictions of Len Deighton and John Le Carré. Watching the shadow-play on the walls of the Cold War cave, and seeing the literal interpenetration of opposites as Karla penetrated ‘us’, and ‘we’ reciprocated, one could make the induction that the spy game was a thing in itself, and ...

Eden and Suez

David Gilmour, 18 December 1986

Anthony Eden 
by Robert Rhodes James.
Weidenfeld, 665 pp., £16.95, October 1986, 0 297 78989 9
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Descent to Suez: Diaries 1951-56 
by Evelyn Shuckburgh, edited by John Charmley.
Weidenfeld, 380 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 297 78993 7
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Cutting the Lion’s Tail: Suez through Egyptian Eyes 
by Mohamed Heikal.
Deutsch, 242 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 233 97967 0
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The Suez Affair 
by Hugh Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 255 pp., £5.95, October 1986, 0 297 78953 8
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... a bit of a lightweight, a ‘natural number two’ who should never have become prime minister. John Grigg wrote of him before the Suez crisis: ‘Popularity means much more to him than it ever should mean to a statesman. Since the early days, when he was idolised by millions on account of his personal appearance and blameless views, he has never lost the ...

Late Deceiver

Robert Blake, 17 September 1981

Anthony Eden 
by David Carlton.
Allen Lane, 528 pp., £20, August 1981, 0 7139 0829 7
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... biographising of Anthony Eden is one of some interest. He offered the task to the late Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, author of many major books including a study of the Munich crisis and the official biography of George VI, who agreed on condition that he would not be expected to publish in Lord Avon’s lifetime. By a tragic irony of events Sir ...

Belfast Book

Patricia Craig, 5 June 1986

Lonely the man without heroes 
by M.S. Power.
Heinemann, 222 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 434 59960 3
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The Pearlkillers 
by Rachel Ingalls.
Faber, 205 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 571 13795 4
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The Girls 
by John Bowen.
Hamish Hamilton, 182 pp., £8.95, April 1986, 0 241 11867 0
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To have and to hold 
by Deborah Moggach.
Viking, 320 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 670 80812 1
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Vacant Possession 
by Hilary Mantel.
Chatto, 239 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 7011 3047 4
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Breaking the rules 
by Caroline Lassalle.
Hamish Hamilton, 280 pp., £9.95, May 1986, 0 241 11837 9
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The Bay of Silence 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Cape, 163 pp., £8.95, May 1986, 0 224 02345 4
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... knowingness and flamboyance you have to come right up to the present and the stories of John Morrow, in which the native idiom and capacity for non-serious outrage find their fullest expression. All these afford no more than glimpses, if compelling ones; as yet, no Honorary Consul, Golden Notebook or Burger’s Daughter has come out of Belfast. As a ...

We shall not be moved

John Bayley, 2 February 1984

Come aboard and sail away 
by John Fuller.
Salamander, 48 pp., £6, October 1983, 0 907540 37 6
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Children in Exile 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 24 pp., £5, October 1983, 0 907540 39 2
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‘The Memory of War’ and ‘Children in Exile’: Poems 1968-1983 
by James Fenton.
Penguin, 110 pp., £1.95, October 1983, 0 14 006812 0
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Some Contemporary Poets of Britain and Ireland: An Anthology 
edited by Michael Schmidt.
Carcanet, 184 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 0 85635 469 4
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Nights in the Iron Hotel 
by Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 48 pp., £4, November 1983, 0 571 13116 6
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The Irish Lights 
by Charles Johnston and Kyril Fitzlyon.
Bodley Head, 77 pp., £4.50, September 1983, 0 370 30557 4
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Fifteen to Infinity 
by Ruth Fainlight.
Hutchinson, 62 pp., £5.95, September 1983, 0 09 152471 7
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Donald Davie and the Responsibilities of Literature 
edited by George Dekker.
Carcanet, 153 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 9780856354663
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... thing, start doing poetry and prose that is nothing but ‘poetry’ and ‘prose’. This is what John Fuller’s new rhymes for children are: they announce their literariness and children can no doubt admire it, for in this context they know, like older readers on the poetry scene, what is proper to it. But Walter de la Mare’s line ‘Who said, “Peacock ...

Hm, hm and that was all

Rosemary Hill: Queen Mary, 6 December 2018

The Quest for Queen Mary 
by James Pope-Hennessy, edited by Hugo Vickers.
Zuleika, 335 pp., £25, September 2018, 978 1 9997770 3 6
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... in 1955, however, started a train of thought in the mind of Crewe’s daughter Lady Cynthia Colville, who had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary. She spoke to Owen Morshead, the royal librarian, and shortly afterwards Pope-Hennessy was surprised and annoyed to be asked to write the official biography. It was largely due to his brother ...

A Man of No Mind

Colm Tóibín: The Passion of Roger Casement, 13 September 2012

The Dream of the Celt 
by Mario Vargas Llosa and Edith Grossman.
Faber, 404 pp., £18.99, June 2012, 978 0 571 27571 7
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... we read it as a version of what happened. The value of Congo was at first its ivory. But in 1888, John Boyd Dunlop, an Ulster Scot living in Belfast, made a discovery which would make the Congo Basin one of the most lucrative places on earth. In The Devil’s Milk: A Social History of Rubber, John Tully describes the moment ...

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