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Patrick Parrinder, 4 April 1985

Lives of the Poets: A Novella and Six Stories 
by E.L. Doctorow.
Joseph, 145 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 0 7181 2529 0
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The Pork Butcher 
by David Hughes.
Constable, 123 pp., £5.95, April 1984, 0 09 465510 3
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Out of the Blue 
by John Milne.
Hamish Hamilton, 309 pp., £8.95, March 1985, 0 241 11489 6
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... between collective memory and conscience, and the art of the storyteller. In both Hughes’s and John Milne’s novels the haunting events have to do with Nazi Germany. Ernst Kestner, Hughes’s pork butcher, is a German ex-soldier who feels impelled to revisit the scene of a World War Two massacre in occupied France. Kestner is in his sixties and is ...

He don’t mean any harm

John Bayley, 28 June 1990

A.A. MilneHis Life 
by Ann Thwaite.
Faber, 554 pp., £17.50, June 1990, 0 571 13888 8
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... of conformity from which the next generation will emancipate itself in derision and disgust. A.A. Milne’s favourite novel was Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh, which came out in 1903, not much more than a decade before the begetting of Christopher Robin, in fact and in fiction. Milne may well have thought that he ...

Late Worm

Rosemary Hill: James Lees-Milne, 10 September 2009

James Lees-MilneThe Life 
by Michael Bloch.
Murray, 400 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 7195 6034 7
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... Anyone who knew or knew of James Lees-Milne in his later years might have formed the impression of an exquisitely polished round peg in a perfectly round hole. Aesthete, diarist, wit, he had known everyone from the Mitfords to Mick Jagger and wrote about them amusingly. His work for the National Trust over three decades had made him personally and professionally familiar with most of the great houses of England ...

Milne’s Cropper

Robert Kee, 7 July 1988

... Two interesting questions are raised by Alasdair Milne’s book about his time at the BBC.* The first, more important but less interesting, is: what, if anything, is wrong with the BBC? The second is: what, if anything, is wrong with Alasdair Milne? Milne’s answer to the second question seems to be ‘nothing much’ – which at least helps us with our own answer to the question ...

Poor Harold

C.H. Sisson, 3 December 1981

Harold Nicolson: A Biography. Vo. II: 1930-1968 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 403 pp., £15, October 1981, 0 7011 2602 7
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... Virginia Woolf, and I believe James Joyce, though I learn from the volume before me that Sir John Reith, reigning at the BBC, forbade Nicolson to mention Ulysses, then banned. Little encounters of that kind were to be expected in those days, and Nicolson seems not to have attempted to reason with the great man on this occasion. Such high matters were ...

Diners-out

E.S. Turner, 3 July 1986

Augustus Hare: Victorian Gentleman 
by Malcolm Barnes.
Allen and Unwin, 240 pp., £20, May 1986, 9780049201002
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Midway on the Waves 
by James Lees-Milne.
Faber, 248 pp., £10.95, October 1985, 0 571 13723 7
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... and drifted into the writing of guidebooks for the expanding railway age. His first publisher was John Murray the third, who wanted an anonymous Handbook on Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire and insisted on facts, not fancies. Hare regretfully accepted this limitation. Much of his early travelling was done with Maria, by now a prey to hysterical trances. When he ...

Brideshead Revered

David Cannadine, 17 March 1983

The Country House 
by James Lees-Milne.
Oxford, 110 pp., £4.50, November 1982, 0 19 214139 2
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English Country Houses and Landed Estates 
by Heather Clemenson.
Croom Helm, 244 pp., £15.95, July 1982, 0 85664 987 2
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The Last Country Houses 
by Clive Aslet.
Yale, 344 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 300 02904 7
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... One of the many contradictory qualities of the British,’ James Lees-Milne rightly notes in his attractive if angry anthology in piam memoriam Bladesover, ‘is to revere, and even lament, the things they are in the process of destroying.’ You cannot, he seems to be saying, have conservation without destruction, or a stay of execution without a sentence ...

Ambitions

Robert Blake, 18 December 1980

Harold Nicolson: A Biography: Vol. 1, 1886-1929 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 429 pp., £15, November 1980, 0 7011 2520 9
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Harold Nicolson Diaries 1930-1964 
by Stanley Olson.
Collins, 436 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 00 216304 7
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... reasons for his lack of success. He was well-known for his numerous homosexual affairs: Mr Lees-Milne says that he ‘was not passionate but very lustful’. His tastes were a serious handicap when the act was criminal even between consenting adults. The extent of the veil drawn over such matters even in the supposedly uninhibited 1920s is shown by Harold ...

Half-Way up the Hill

Frank Kermode, 7 July 1988

Young Betjeman 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 457 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 7195 4531 5
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... John Betjeman was nicely eccentric, and droll in a way mysteriously suited to English taste. His being so droll allowed him to display an out-of-the-way learning that might otherwise have seemed remote and ineffectual, but on which it was his gift to confer a certain centrality. He liked to seem lazy, which is why, having repeatedly failed the easy examination in Divinity then compulsory at Oxford, he went down without a degree ...

Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

People and Places: Country House Donors and the National Trust 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 232 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 7195 5145 5
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The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769 
by Michael Dobson.
Oxford, 266 pp., £30, October 1992, 0 19 811233 5
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Myths of the English 
edited by Roy Porter.
Polity, 280 pp., £39.50, October 1992, 0 7456 0844 2
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Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States 
by Stephen Daniels.
Polity, 257 pp., £39.50, November 1992, 0 7456 0450 1
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... come hell or high water, let our distinctive British identity be lost in a federal Europe.’ John Major’s ringing assurance to last year’s Conservative Party Conference is part of a long tradition whereby Britishness has been defined primarily by reference to a real or an imaginary Other. Understandably so, since defining this entity in its own terms ...

Tony, Ray and the Duchess

Alan Bell, 21 May 1981

A Lonely Business: A Self-Portrait of James Pope-Hennessy 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £12.50, April 1981, 0 297 77918 4
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... his undoing, made him a difficult and often an impossible friend. Even in 1942 James Lees-Milne was to write of him as ‘becoming spoilt and too reliant upon his youthful charm’. This collection of some of his literary remains – letters, a patchy diary and some Queen Mary research memoranda of considerable interest – brings out all too clearly ...

My Millbank

Seumas Milne, 18 April 1996

The Blair Revolution: Can New Labour Deliver? 
by Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle.
Faber, 274 pp., £7.99, February 1996, 0 571 17818 9
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... such a position is lost neither on his enemies nor on Mandelson, who tasted internal exile under John Smith and did not relish it. Belatedly weary of his Cardinal Richelieu reputation and riled by taunts that he is a hollow man without personal beliefs, the response has been a 100,000-word credo to show he can be a real politician like his ...

After the May Day Flood

Seumas Milne, 5 June 1997

... squeamish about dispensing with such footling restrictions, left-of-centre figures such as Cook, John Prescott, Margaret Beckett and Chris Smith have been allowed to surround themselves with like-minded ministers. The man who has replaced the Blairite factotum Stephen Byers, for example, in charge of minimum wage and trade-union rights, is Ian McCartney ...

Brideshead and the Tower Blocks

Patrick Wright, 2 June 1988

Home: A Short History of an Idea 
by Witold Rybczynski.
Heinemann, 256 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 434 14292 1
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... was a moving force behind the National Trust’s new Country House Scheme, recommending James Lees-Milne for the job of historic buildings secretary and also helping to define the aesthetic which would be built up around the preserved country house. In English Country Houses (1941) she started to theorise the English country house in terms that would prove ...

Diary

John Naughton: On the Future of the BBC, 17 December 1992

... had been unhorsed, however, the steam seemed to go out of the relationship. Early in the Gulf War, John Major was invited by one of his more neanderthal backbenchers to indulge in a routine spot of BBC-bashing during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons. Major pointedly declined the opportunity and went out of his way to compliment the World Service on ...

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