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Torday’s Scorpion

Basil Davidson, 9 April 1992

The African Experience 
by Roland Oliver.
Weidenfeld, 284 pp., £19.99, August 1991, 0 297 82022 2
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A Thousand Years of East Africa 
by John Sutton.
British Institute in Eastern Africa, 111 pp., £8, November 1990, 1 872566 00 6
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When the grass is gone 
edited by P.W.T. Baxter.
Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 215 pp., December 1991, 91 7106 318 8
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The Scramble for Africa 
by Thomas Pakenham.
Weidenfeld, 738 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 297 81130 4
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... to a wider public, and in this respect can be seen at its best in a lucid account by its director, John Sutton, of many-handed research over the past twenty years in the vast region which lies between the Indian Ocean and the eastern periphery of the Congo Basin. What has been here at stake is partly the history of the coast and offshore islands, and ...

Remember the Yak

Michael Robbins: John Ashbery, 9 September 2010

by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 143 pp., £12.95, December 2009, 978 1 84777 089 9
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... It’s been two years since the last one, so it must be time for a new book of poems by John Ashbery. Like the old James Bond films, Ashbery’s late instalments arrive punctually, and you buy your ticket knowing what to expect: a suave cartoon with ridiculous gadgets, clever one-liners and last-minute escapes. ‘So Long, Santa’, the penultimate poem in Ashbery’s previous collection, A Worldly Country (2007), worried that ‘it will come round again/and we won’t be ready ...

Why aren’t they screaming?

Helen Vendler: Philip Larkin, 6 November 2014

Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love 
by James Booth.
Bloomsbury, 532 pp., £25, August 2014, 978 1 4088 5166 1
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... wounded supporters (including Booth in The Poet’s Plight) are still contending against them. John Osborne (director of American Studies at Hull) attempted to refute those denigrating Larkin on ideological grounds in his 2008 Larkin, Ideology and Critical Violence; his new book, Radical Larkin, fortified with literary theory, wishes to reclaim Larkin as a ...

Riches to riches

John Brooks, 20 November 1986

Bend’Or, Duke of Westminster: A Personal Memoir 
by George Ridley.
Robin Clark, 213 pp., £9.95, November 1985, 0 86072 096 9
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Getty: The Richest Man in the World 
by Robert Lenzner.
Hutchinson, 283 pp., £9.95, November 1985, 0 09 162840 7
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... was no ideologue: money and sex were his politics. In 1959, Getty bought (at a bargain price) Sutton Place, the Duke of Sutherland’s estate in Surrey: mentioned in the Domesday Book and owned for a time by Henry VIII, it was older and more distinguished than Bend’Or’s Eaton. He lived there for the rest of his life. He had no idea of how to act like ...

In Cardiff

John Barrell: Richard Wilson, 25 September 2014

... in the last decades of the 18th century, before Wilson came to be forgotten. The portrait painter John Hoppner, an early adherent of the Joey-Barton-on-Question-Time school of cultural criticism, declared that ‘considering the qualities of Claude & Wilson as He shd. the qualities of two fine Women, He should acknowledge the beauties of Claude but say Wilson ...

Shandying It

John Mullan: Sterne’s Foibles, 6 June 2002

Laurence Sterne: A Life 
by Ian Campbell Ross.
Oxford, 512 pp., £25, March 2001, 0 19 212235 5
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... as a satire (rather than as a ‘novel’) that Tristram Shandy began. Meanwhile, as the vicar of Sutton-on-the-Forest, some eight miles from York, Sterne was performing his duties, as far as Ross can tell, kindly but not conscientiously, trying his luck at farming and achieving some local celebrity for that peculiar 18th-century performance art: the giving ...

A Lone Enraptured Male

Kathleen Jamie: The Cult of the Wild, 6 March 2008

The Wild Places 
by Robert Macfarlane.
Granta, 340 pp., £18.99, September 2007, 978 1 86207 941 0
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... it with phosphorus and calcium, to the detriment of rare alpine plants.A delicate issue. The John Muir Trust and the other owners of the land around Ben Nevis have constructed a ‘Memorial Site for Contemplation’ at the foot of the mountain, and are removing the memorials from the open hill. As for ashes, well, the Nevis Partnership says: try throwing ...

They would not go away

Conrad Russell, 30 March 1989

England’s Iconoclasts: Laws against Images 
by Margaret Aston.
Oxford, 548 pp., £48, July 1988, 0 19 822438 9
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... Marians recovered from the road at Smarden in Kent was potentially divisive: the altar stones at Sutton Valence and Hartlip, which had been built into the fireplaces of Master Harper and Master Norton, were potential sources of riot. The divisive potential of ecclesiastical ornament lasted right down to, and into, the Civil War, as illustrated by the ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2009, 7 January 2010

... I saw the first production at Wyndham’s in 1964 with Madge Ryan, Peter Vaughan and Dudley Sutton. Good in the part Sutton was already too old, as have been most of the actors who’ve played in it since. It’s a play I would dearly like to have written, though these days for it to retain its shock value the young ...

Call me unpretentious

Ian Hamilton, 20 October 1994

Major Major: Memories of an Older Brother 
by Terry Major-Ball.
Duckworth, 167 pp., £12.95, August 1994, 0 7156 2631 0
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... When John Major ascended to 10 Downing Street, the wits were at first unsure quite how to set about him. There was the obvious, the elementary ‘grey’ approach: the Burton suits, the haircut, the delicious fry-ups and so on. On this reading, Major could be presented as a drearier-than-either cross between James Stewart and J ...

Why are you still here?

James Meek: Who owns Grimsby?, 23 April 2015

... them, when they caught the wrong fish, to dump it.As I listened to Hardie I thought of something John Fenty, the local businessman who owns Grimsby Town football club, had told me a couple of days earlier: how he got his start in 1984 hiring transport out to a local trader who drove around the colliery villages inland, selling fish factory discards to ...

Widowers on the Prowl

Tom Shippey: Britain after Rome, 17 March 2011

Britain after Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400-1070 
by Robin Fleming.
Allen Lane, 458 pp., £25, August 2010, 978 0 7139 9064 5
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... the 1960s and 1970s, in books like Geoffrey Ashe’s The Quest for Arthur’s Britain (1968) and John Morris’s The Age of Arthur (1973). Professional historians have long been embarrassed by the whole thing, but the image created – Roman cavalry leader rallies the British after the Roman army withdrawal and fights off hordes of invading Angles and Saxons ...


Nicholas Penny: Getting Rid of the Curators, 4 May 1989

... allowed itself to be used to provide publicity for Sothebys, who staged a preview there of Elton John’s collection of bric-à-brac; for the Sock Shop and for Burberrys. ‘We,’ Lord Armstrong told the Lords in defence of these arrangements, ‘are the National Museum of contemporary design. We take pride in having artefacts of contemporary design in ...


E.S. Turner, 15 September 1988

Memories of Times Past 
by Louis Heren.
Hamish Hamilton, 313 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 241 12427 1
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Chances: An Autobiography 
by Mervyn Jones.
Verso, 311 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 86091 167 5
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... that the owners of the Times could have done more to restrain Dawson from his excesses; as it was, John Walter IV, co-proprietor with Lord Astor, complained when ‘our leader-writer’ proposed dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. His qualms were ‘airily’ brushed aside by Dawson. Half a century on, what of Rupert Murdoch? ‘Arguably,’ says Heren, ‘he ...

Silent Pleasures

A.W.F. Edwards, 15 July 1982

... activity with the minimum of state interference necessary to protect third parties. He discovered John Stuart Mill, and warmly applauded him. Wills’s trilogy spans forty years of British gliding: but it is the first twenty that fire the imagination, and On Being a Bird that captures it. That famous flight from Heston to St Austell in 1938 is described in ...

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