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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 ...

Hugh Dalton to the rescue

Keith Thomas, 13 November 1997

The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home 
by Peter Mandler.
Yale, 523 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 0 300 06703 8
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Ancient as the Hills 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 228 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 7195 5596 5
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The Fate of the English Country House 
by David Littlejohn.
Oxford, 344 pp., £20, May 1997, 9780195088762
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... This went badly awry. ‘If a noble family cannot rebuild their own castle,’ thundered John Ruskin, ‘in God’s name let them live in the nearest ditch till they can.’ The popular view that stately homes were part of the national heritage was now challenged by the Radical view that they were the national heritage, wrongly appropriated. With an ...

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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... and was a friend of many of his most interesting contemporaries, Cecil Beaton and James Lees-Milne among them. He loved female company, was ‘much sought after by hostesses for his sparkling conversation’ and by 1953 had established a reputation as a biographer. Two volumes on the life of Richard Monckton-Milnes, the late Georgian politician and ...

Retrochic

Keith Thomas, 20 April 1995

Theatres of Memory. Vol. I: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture 
by Raphael Samuel.
Verso, 479 pp., £18.95, February 1995, 0 86091 209 4
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... author of The Mansions of England in the Olden Time was the artist Joseph Nash, not the architect John; the authority on Hadrian’s Wall is Robin Birley, not Robert; William III’s historiographer was Thomas Rymer, not Edward; it was in the ruins of the Capitol, not the Colosseum, that Gibbon conceived the idea of the Decline and Fall; and Rothesay is not ...

An English Vice

Bernard Bergonzi, 21 February 1985

The Turning Key: Autobiography and the Subjective Impulse since 1800 
by Jerome Hamilton Buckley.
Harvard, 191 pp., £12.75, April 1984, 0 674 91330 2
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The Art of Autobiography in 19th and 20th-Century England 
by A.O.J. Cockshut.
Yale, 222 pp., £10.95, September 1984, 0 300 03235 8
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... published nearly twenty-five years ago, remains an indispensable pioneering work; more recently John Pilling’s Autobiography and Imagination provided some interesting studies of particular autobiographies by eminent Anglophone or Continental writers but without much discussion of the nature of autobiographical form. Jerome Hamilton Buckley and ...

Who killed Alison Shaughnessy?

Bob Woffinden, 3 December 1992

... had a number of early leads, and also a hunch about Michelle Taylor. Michelle worked alongside John Shaughnessy, Alison’s husband, at the Churchill Clinic in Lambeth, and the police quickly picked up the gossip about an affair between them. For some weeks, however, the hunch didn’t seem to be leading anywhere. The police were in the process of dealing ...

Our Boys

John Bayley, 28 November 1996

Emily Tennyson 
by Ann Thwaite.
Faber, 716 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 571 96554 7
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... is so good at tracing. Her long books about those highly equivocal figures Edmund Gosse and A.A. Milne showed the unusual powers she possesses as a biographer. She eschews brilliance for the sake of the contingent but possibly significant detail: one would not wish any of her studies a word shorter. Returning to Lionel for a moment, we find the poor boy ...

Everyone’s Pal

John Sutherland: Louis de Bernières, 13 December 2001

Red Dog 
by Louis de Bernières.
Secker, 119 pp., £10, October 2001, 0 436 25617 7
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Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World 
by Louis de Bernières.
Vintage, 119 pp., £6.99, October 2001, 9780099428442
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... sentiment. When presented with this evidence in a series of articles in the Guardian by Seumas Milne in July 2000, de Bernières emailed the journalist to say that he was ‘no longer as sure of anything as I once was’ and that he would be prepared to change his mind on the ‘production of convincing evidence’. The makers of the film (in production ...

Made for TV

Jenny Diski, 14 December 1995

Fight & Kick & Bite: The Life and Work of Dennis Potter 
by W. Stephen Gilbert.
Hodder, 382 pp., £18.99, November 1995, 0 340 64047 2
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Dennis Potter: A Life on Screen 
by John Cook.
Manchester, 368 pp., £45, October 1995, 0 7190 4601 7
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... for the author to provide something more than a lesson in how to suck eggs. Stephen Gilbert and John Cook (along with just about everyone else) would agree that Potter reached his reflexive nadir with Blackeyes, in which the story of the eponymous model based on the central character, Jessica, is related as a novel authored by Jessica’s uncle, but ...

Facing the Future

Keith Middlemas, 17 December 1981

Fifty Years of Political and Economic Planning: Looking Forward, 1931-1981 
edited by John Pinder.
Heinemann, 228 pp., £9.50, June 1981, 0 435 83690 0
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... the massive resistance of capital, labour, finance and public opinion. Unlike the Webbs, Mosley or John Strachey (in the authoritarian phase of his Coming Struggle for Power), PEP’s most outspoken planners still held to a belief in planning within an open democratic society. Yet they achieved this worthy position by evading the question of power. Power was ...

Taunted with the Duke of Kent, she married the Aga Khan

Rosemary Hill: Coming Out, 19 October 2006

Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 305 pp., £20, October 2006, 0 571 22859 3
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... it to an end. Indeed the curtsies might have been stopped the year before had it not been for John Grigg (then Lord Altrincham) whose sensational article in the National and English Review on the future of the monarchy had included a savage attack on debutantes and all they represented. The queen is thought to have kept the ceremony going for one more ...

Exasperating Classics

Patricia Craig, 23 May 1985

Secret Gardens 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Allen and Unwin, 235 pp., £12.95, April 1985, 0 04 809022 0
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Reading and Righting 
by Robert Leeson.
Collins, 256 pp., £6.95, March 1985, 9780001844131
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Pipers at the Gates of Dawn 
by Jonathan Cott.
Viking, 327 pp., £12.95, August 1984, 0 670 80003 1
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... perhaps, like Winnie-the-Pooh. Carpenter would have us believe that the sentimentalities of A.A. Milne, so greatly in evidence throughout the Pooh and Christopher Robin saga, are never very far removed in spirit from an adult mockery of the whole business of childhood. Milne, he says, is simultaneously sentimentalist and ...

Unmuscular Legs

E.S. Turner, 22 August 1996

The Dictionary of National Biography 1986-1990 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 607 pp., £50, June 1996, 0 19 865212 7
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... the ‘gunpowder plot’ and literary impostor (a category not yet extinct). In the latest volume John Stone-house appears as politician and confidence trickster, but Harold Philby is dubbed Soviet agent rather than traitor and Klaus Fuchs gets by as theoretical physicist. Other less controversial occupations include entrepreneur, man of letters, geologist ...

Diary

Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service, 18 April 2019

... order of service is a scream,’ I said. ‘A reading from The West Highland Railway by John Thomas?’ ‘Well, there you are.’ ‘Also a reading from The Liverpool Repertory Theatre, 1911-34. Followed by a bit of Macaulay’s “The Passing of the Second Reading of the Reform Bill”, read by Lord Mayhew. Address by Alasdair ...

Ferrets can be gods

Katherine Rundell, 11 August 2016

Gabriel-Ernest and Other Tales 
by Saki and Quentin Blake.
Alma Classics, 156 pp., £6.99, October 2015, 978 1 84749 592 1
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... wrote in the vernacular of the drawing room but with the ruthlessness of an avenging prophet. A.A. Milne wrote in an early introduction to Saki’s stories: A strange exotic creature, this Saki, to us many others who were trying to do it too. For we were so domestic, he so terrifyingly cosmopolitan. While we were being funny, as planned, with collar-studs and ...

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