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Sod off, readers

John Sutherland

26 September 1991
Rude Words: A Discursive History of the London Library 
by John Wells.
Macmillan, 240 pp., £17.50, September 1991, 0 333 47519 4
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Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English 
by Geoffrey Hughes.
Blackwell, 283 pp., £16.95, August 1991, 0 631 16593 2
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... 150th anniversary, the present guardians of the London Library have chosen an eminent comedian, John Wells, to write their celebratory history. The sage of Chelsea would not have been amused. But then, nothing did amuse him. He seems to have been immune to such essentially human feelings. Carlyle happened to be in the library in 1875 when Bryan ...
11 December 1997
The House of Lords: From Saxon Wargods to a Modern Senate 
by John Wells.
Hodder, 298 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 340 64928 3
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... long afterwards the producer died suddenly and that was that. The scarlet Woolsack, described by John Wells as ‘a sofa sacred to the law’, plays a sit-on part throughout this book. Though periodically restuffed with Commonwealth wool, it retains all the ‘ritual magic’ of medieval days. During the Gordon Riots of 1780 it was the holy refuge on ...
26 November 1998
The Figaro Plays 
by Pierre de Beaumarchais, translated by John Wells.
Dent, 290 pp., £20, December 1997, 0 460 87923 5
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... as though they couldn’t stand on their own without a scaffolding of good tunes. Yet, as John Wells’s lively and splendidly speakable translations of the Barber, the Marriage and A Mother’s Guilt demonstrate, they need assistance from no one. Beaumarchais never broke with the drame, which looms large in La Mère coupable, nor did he stop ...
2 December 1982
The ‘Private Eye’ Story: The First 21 Years 
by Patrick Marnham.
Private Eye/Deutsch, 232 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 233 97509 8
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One for the Road: Further Letters of Denis Thatcher 
by Richard Ingrams and John Wells.
Private Eye/Deutsch, 80 pp., £2.50, October 1982, 9780233975115
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Sir James Goldsmith: The Man and the Myth 
by Geoffrey Wansell.
Fontana, 222 pp., £1.95, April 1982, 0 00 636503 5
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... staffer of the Eye and co-published by the Eye. Reviewers? Auberon Waugh in the Daily Mail; John Wells twice, once in Harper’s and once in the Times; Christopher Booker in the Spectator; Malcolm Muggeridge in the Daily Telegraph; Candida Lycett-Green (who was in love with Ingrams at Oxford, speaks adoringly of him in this book, and once worked ...

At the V&A

Jeremy Harding: 50 Years of ‘Private Eye’

15 December 2011
... to a Scarfe cartoon of Harold Wilson with his lolling tongue in close proximity to Lyndon Johnson’s bottom (‘Vietnam: Wilson right behind Johnson’, 30 April 1965). ‘I’ve heard of a special relationship,’ the president muses, hitching up his trousers, ‘but this is ridiculous.’ Somehow the exquisite ...

Sweetie Pies

Jenny Diski

23 May 1996
Below the Parapet: The Biography of Denis Thatcher 
by Carol Thatcher.
HarperCollins, 303 pp., £16.99, April 1996, 0 00 255605 7
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... Denis Thatcher is entirely inventable – as John Wells understood: he comes in a flat pack with easy-to-follow instructions, all the components familiar general shapes, all parts from stock, no odd angles, no imagination required. When they came up with the idea for Ikea, they used Denis Thatcher as the prototype ...

Shoulder-Shrugging

Julian Critchley

11 December 1997
Dear Bill: Bill Deedes Reports 
by W.F. Deedes.
Macmillan, 396 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 333 71386 9
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... he has a light touch, and is invariably amusing. In their ‘Dear Bill’ letters in Private Eye, John Wells and Richard Ingrams cast Deedes as the foil to Denis Thatcher. He was Ernie Wise to Thatcher’s Eric Morecambe. But the role of straight man came naturally to him. Dear Bill (the book, that is) should make a merry Christmas for thousands of its ...
14 December 1995
Shadows of the Future: H.G. Wells, Science Fiction and Prophecy 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Liverpool, 170 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 85323 439 6
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The History of Mr Wells 
by Michael Foot.
Doubleday, 318 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 385 40366 6
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A Modern Utopia 
by H.G. Wells, edited by Krishan Kumar.
Everyman, 271 pp., £5.99, November 1994, 0 460 87498 5
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... work of science fiction will ever win the Booker Prize – not even the joke 1890s version. H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine had no chance against ‘literary’ authors like Hardy and Conrad. In the twenty-five years it has been running, no SF title, as I recall, has even been shortlisted for Martyn Goff’s real thing. In 1940, T.S. Eliot struck the ...

Counter-Factuals

Linda Colley

1 November 1984
The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism 
edited by Margaret Jacob and James Jacob.
Allen and Unwin, 333 pp., £18.50, February 1984, 0 04 909015 1
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Insurrection: The British Experience 1795-1803 
by Roger Wells.
Alan Sutton, 312 pp., £16, May 1983, 9780862990190
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Radicalism and Freethought in 19th-Century Britain 
by Joel Wiener.
Greenwood, 285 pp., $29.95, March 1983, 0 313 23532 5
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For King, Constitution and Country: The English Loyalists and the French Revolution 
by Robert Dozier.
Kentucky, 213 pp., £20.90, February 1984, 9780813114903
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... obligation to study past radicalism felt by many socialist historians, and (to borrow one of Roger Wells’s more charitable epithets) ‘what passes for liberal historians’, seems only to have been intensified by resurgent conservatism on both sides of the Atlantic. Thus, according to its publisher’s blurb, the Jacobs’ volume is designed to celebrate ...
25 April 1991
... does not intrude ... into personal beliefs.’ The Church in America continued to ‘poison the wells’, said Greene; but in some mysterious way it was the Church who seemed the ultimate beneficiary of all this denunciation, possibly because its attitude to authority and indoctrination was not so dissimilar from the Revolution’s. Greene could give the ...

Maughamisms

Elizabeth Mavor

18 July 1985
A Traveller in Romance 
by W. Somerset Maugham, edited by John Whitehead.
Muller, Blond and White, 275 pp., £12.95, November 1984, 0 85634 184 3
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... light of one intriguing anecdote included in this book. It appears that on a visit to Maugham H.G. Wells drew his fingers along the edition of his complete works that he had presented to his fellow author. ‘You know, they’re dead,’ he said. ‘They deal with matters of topical interest and now of course they’re unreadable.’ Maugham considered they ...

Foxy-Faced

John Bayley

29 September 1988
Something to hold onto: Autobiographical Sketches 
by Richard Cobb.
Murray, 168 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 7195 4587 0
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... fast) win the former’s professional admiration, while Cobb is as much a connoisseur of Tunbridge Wells interiors, customs and habits – ‘a distinctive week and a distinctive Sunday’ – as he is of the rituals of the railroad in a small American town, or of French speech, French drinks, metro stations, revolutions. The first of the photographs here is a ...

Tinkering

John Maynard Smith

17 September 1981
The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Norton, 343 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 393 01380 4
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... age of almost thirty, depended entirely on reading the popular works of men like Julian Huxley, Wells, Haldane, Jeans, Eddington and lnfeld. Had I not been inspired by them, I would not later have become a scientist. More than that, the ideas I got from them were profound, not superficial. The list of writers I have just given, together with a later ...
23 August 2001
Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous 
by Don Foster.
Macmillan, 340 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 333 78170 8
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... the cops had in December consulted a New York psychiatrist called James Brussel, described by John Douglas as ‘the father of behavioural profiling’. Douglas is the FBI man who inspired Thomas Harris to invent the character Jack Crawford in the Hannibal Lecter novels, so he should know. This is the psychological portrait Brussel came up with of the Mad ...
21 February 1991
Samuel Butler: A Biography 
by Peter Raby.
Hogarth, 334 pp., £25, February 1991, 0 7012 0890 2
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... Surely this is neither fine writing nor plain writing, but just bad writing? But if Kipling or Wells might in their own ways have done Erewhon better, and E.M. Forster The Way of All Flesh, that does not affect Butler’s influence and individuality, his power to create himself as ‘master of his life’. It is significant that Virginia Woolf’s praise ...

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