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Romeo and Tito

Penelope Gilliatt, 5 June 1980

... When I was ten, in 1942, I won five shillings for the Madame Chiang Kai Shek short-story prize, and went straight to the bank to put the money into my Tito fund, muttering left-wing slogans against the bullying gracious lady of the Orient. I saw her as shrouded in jewels, but not in my five shillings. By the time I was fifteen, when I had considerably added to the fund by writing a radio play on a typewriter swiped every night from my school’s secretarial department, the savings amounted to more than enough to buy the £25 train fare to Belgrade by the Simplon-Orient Express ...

Miz Peggy

Penelope Gilliatt, 15 September 1983

The Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell 
by Anne Edwards.
Hodder, 369 pp., £9.95, July 1983, 0 340 32348 5
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... From Anne Edwards’s biography of Margaret Mitchell, we know that Peggy Mitchell had ‘sailor-blue eyes’. We also know that she stood four feet eight, which is mighty small for the militant author of Gone with the Wind. At this size she mounted, or climbed up a ladder to, a large horse. Wheeling him (fervently: her whole life was led in adverbs) and crying ‘Look at me!’ to the South in general, she fell off ...


Penelope Gilliatt, 19 May 1983

The Life of Katherine Anne Porter 
by Joan Givner.
Cape, 572 pp., £15, March 1983, 0 224 02093 5
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... By God, America is great, and so are its scholarly books. This one is 572 pages long and it took the author twenty years to write. Longer than Katherine Anne Porter found to write the whole of her resplendent work. Joan Givner’s book might be called light plane reading, except that it is heartlessly grave, gravid though fruitless, and would take the most receptive astronauts a moon-flight to try to sleep through, its dulled prose keeping them tossing and turning all the way ...

From culture to couture

Penelope Gilliatt, 21 February 1985

The ‘Vogue’ Bedside Book 
edited by Josephine Ross.
Hutchinson, 256 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 09 158520 1
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The Art of Zandra Rhodes 
by Anne Knight and Zandra Rhodes.
Cape, 240 pp., £18, November 1984, 0 395 37940 7
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... There are three Vogues, published in New York, London and Paris. They are known to Condé Nast people as ‘Vogue’, ‘Brogue’ and ‘Frog’. Their characters have nothing in common. In order of hauteur, Frog is housed in an ambassadorial house in the Place du Palais Bourbon, and has long been edited by a handsome woman of diplomatic family, Edmonde Charles-Roux ...

Chez Tati

Penelope Gilliatt, 30 December 1982

... Film buffs, a new mutant breed that can see only in the dark and that arranges unlike things in even rows of bestness, have collared the word ‘pantheon’. They have in mind – this species that seems to have learnt English by German gramophone record in an igloo – a holy order of film directors. This word is easily confused with Parthenon, of which the Goons said that it would be nice when it was finished, so it seems best to say ‘favourite film directors’ instead – Renoir, Gance, Eisenstein, Ray, Truffaut, Keaton, Vigo, Tati ...


Marilyn Butler, 22 January 1981

Three-Quarter Face 
by Penelope Gilliatt.
Secker, 295 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780436179587
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Show People 
by Kenneth Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 317 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 297 77842 0
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When the lights go down 
by Pauline Kael.
Boyars, 592 pp., £8.95, August 1980, 0 7145 2726 2
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... to the number of which they are themselves adding’. Most of us would never have heard of Penelope Gilliatt and of the late Kenneth Tynan if they had not been weekly columnists. Both made a name as the Observer’s regular reviewers of (respectively) films and the theatre. It is true that Gilliatt was also a ...

Looking back in anger

Hilary Mantel, 21 November 1991

Almost a Gentleman. An Autobiography: Vol. II 1955-66 
by John Osborne.
Faber, 273 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 571 16261 4
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... again it is time to ‘pump out the blocked drain of matrimony’ he moves on, via mistresses, to Penelope Gilliatt. ‘Why do you keep marrying these women?’ the agent Peggy Ramsay asked him. ‘I’m sure they can’t possibly want to marry you.’ It is not long before moaning and sneering again dominate the text. ...


Susannah Clapp, 23 July 1987

A Life with Alan: The Diary of A.J.P. Taylor’s Wife, Eva, from 1978 to 1985 
by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1987, 0 241 12118 3
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The Painted Banquet: My Life and Loves 
by Jocelyn Rickards.
Weidenfeld, 172 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 297 79119 2
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The Beaverbrook Girl 
by Janet Aitken Kidd.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 00 217602 5
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... his wife surrounded by gossip columnists. A year or so later he took off from Jocelyn Rickards for Penelope Gilliatt. Rickards, who expresses indulgence towards her lovers, reserves her main darts on this occasion for Gilliatt, who didn’t iron her dresses, cooked watery scrambled eggs and sent express letters daily to ...

And then there was ‘Playtime’

Jonathan Coe: Vive Tati!, 9 December 1999

Jacques Tati 
by David Bellos.
Harvill, 382 pp., £25, October 1999, 1 86046 651 6
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... pages. Readers may feel that they get closer to him in the book-length interview conducted by Penelope Gilliatt in the Seventies (now long out of print). But even there he remains elusive, a purveyor of rehearsed anecdotes – many of them now exhumed by Bellos, and expertly unmasked. Perhaps there can be no getting close to the man whose works are ...

At Miss Whitehead’s

Edward Said, 7 July 1994

The Sixties: The Last Journal, 1960-1972 
by Edmund Wilson, edited by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 968 pp., $35, July 1993, 0 374 26554 2
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... is brimming over with accounts of visits with and from lots of important and interesting people: Penelope Gilliatt, Lillian Hellman, Isaiah Berlin, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Harry Levin, W.H. Auden, Malraux, James Baldwin, Stravinsky, Robert Lowell etc. None of these people, however, furnishes Wilson with anything like a satisfying number of ...

Nice Guy

Michael Wood, 14 November 1996

The Life and Work of Harold Pinter 
by Michael Billington.
Faber, 414 pp., £20, November 1996, 0 571 17103 6
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... any inability to communicate there is a deliberate evasion of communication.’ Billington quotes Penelope Gilliatt on the film of The Caretaker (1964), where she notes that to answer the question ‘Where were you born?’ with ‘What do you mean?’ is not gibberish but strategy. ‘The fact that people often talk like this, replying not to the ...

Stalking Out

David Edgar: After John Osborne, 20 July 2006

John Osborne: A Patriot for Us 
by John Heilpern.
Chatto, 528 pp., £25, May 2006, 0 7011 6780 7
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... in quick succession (to Mary Ure, who played his first wife in Look Back in Anger, then to Penelope Gilliatt, the film critic), Osborne developed a lifestyle to go with his riches, with Savile Row suits, town and country residences, stables, swimming-pools, solaria and plenty of vintage champagne (he once asked his tailor to make him a smoking ...

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