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Huw should be so lucky

Philip Purser, 16 August 1990

Sir Huge: The Life of Huw Wheldon 
by Paul Ferris.
Joseph, 307 pp., £18.99, June 1990, 0 7181 3464 8
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... of seeming to want artists and writers to stay in familiar slots. I remember an appearance by Priestley when, approaching the age of seventy, he had just published a thriller. A thriller? The great Wheldon eyebrows were raised to full extent. J.B. Priestley was novelist, dramatist, essayist, even (one might say) man of ...

Old Verities

Brian Harrison, 19 June 1986

The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form 1832-1867 
by Catherine Gallagher.
Chicago, 320 pp., £23.25, September 1985, 0 226 27932 4
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Victorian Prison Lives: English Prison Biography 1830-1914 
by Philip Priestley.
Methuen, 311 pp., £14.85, October 1985, 0 416 34770 3
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The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian England 
by Coral Lansbury.
University of Wisconsin Press, 212 pp., £23.50, November 1985, 0 299 10250 5
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‘Orator’ Hunt: Henry Hunt and English Working-Class Radicalism 
by John Belchem.
Oxford, 304 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 19 822759 0
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... programme. Victorian prisons might not seem to be the place to look for such activism, nor does Priestley (a former prison welfare officer) study them with this motive. For him, the Victorian prison conjures up ‘the features of Leviathan wearing that iron grin that so reassures our rulers and yet unsettles the rest of us in ways we can’t quite ...

England’s End

Peter Campbell, 7 June 1984

English Journey 
by J.B. Priestley.
Heinemann, 320 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 434 60371 6
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English Journey, or The Road to Milton Keynes 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth/BBC, 158 pp., £7.95, March 1984, 0 563 20299 8
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Crisis and Conservation: Conflict in the British Countryside 
by Charlie Pye-Smith and Chris Rose.
Penguin, 213 pp., £3.95, March 1984, 0 14 022437 8
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Invisible Country: A Journey through Scotland 
by James Campbell.
Weidenfeld, 164 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 297 78371 8
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Literary Britain 
by Bill Brandt.
Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Hurtwood Press, 184 pp., £8.95, March 1984, 0 905209 66 4
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... called the Kondratieff Laureates. Fifty years ago, when the economic cycle last hit bottom, J.B. Priestley made his English Journey. A few years later Orwell wrote The Road to Wigan Pier, and Edwin Muir Scottish Journey. Now, as the succeeding wave reaches the bottom of its downward swing, the BBC send out Bainbridge to follow ...

First-Class Fellow Traveller

Terry Eagleton, 2 December 1993

Patrick Hamilton: A Life 
by Sean French.
Faber, 327 pp., £20, November 1993, 0 571 14353 9
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... sign of the times, the mark of an epoch grimly wedded to failure. His work was praised by Greene, Priestley, Lessing, Powell; but if he survives today it is for a couple of memorably macabre dramas – Rope and Gaslight – which Hamilton himself scorned as callow sensationalism. Rope, a savage homo-erotic farce by Orton out of Wilde, made his name and ...

Knives, Wounds, Bows

John Bayley, 2 April 1987

Randall Jarrell’s Letters 
edited by Mary Jarrell.
Faber, 540 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 571 13829 2
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The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore 
edited by Patricia Willis.
Faber, 723 pp., £30, January 1987, 0 571 14788 7
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... It was once observed by J.B. Priestley that the literary life in England was ‘a rat-race without even a sight of the other rats’. English authors on the whole prefer to work on their own and find their friends outside the confraternity – indeed, because of this preference, there is hardly such a thing as a confraternity ...

Radio Fun

Philip Purser, 27 June 1991

A Social History of British Broadcasting. Vol. I: 1922-29, Serving the Nation 
by Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff.
Blackwell, 441 pp., £30, April 1991, 0 631 17543 1
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The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs. Vol. III: Serious Pursuits, Communication and Education 
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 470 pp., £30, May 1991, 0 7450 0536 5Show More
The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 
by Colin Seymour-Ure.
Blackwell, 269 pp., £29.95, May 1991, 9780631164432
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... Despite a quotation from Vile Bodies and references to Graham Greene, George Orwell and J.B. Priestley, this section is a testament to the inadequacy of written sources, on their own, when researching matters as elusive as the likely ambience in which radio programmes were heard. At one extreme, Scannell and Cardiff reproduce comic exhortations from the ...

Pushing on

John Bayley, 18 September 1986

The Old Devils 
by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 294 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 09 163790 2
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... The first thing a novelist must provide is a separate world.’ So Philip Larkin pronounced, and his two novels certainly provide one, as does his poetry. Is the same true of his friend Kingsley Amis, who hazarded the shrewd guess that Larkin published no more novels because he feared failure, in that genre, of the power to keep going with his own separate world of art? It seems likely that Amis has done something which in terms of the novel may be more difficult, and that is to carry the reader with him into whatever new places his interests or imagination have led him ...

Flying Mud

Patrick Parrinder, 8 April 1993

The Invisible Man: The Life and Liberties of H.G. Wells 
by Michael Coren.
Bloomsbury, 240 pp., £20, January 1993, 0 7475 1158 6
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... but his record of opposition to Fascism and Stalinism is a perfectly honourable one, and J.B. Priestley was not exaggerating when he said in a funeral oration that the ‘prophet of this age of transition’ was mourned by men and women of all races. Yet to Michael Coren (who, to do him justice, quotes Priestley in ...

The least you can do is read it

Ian Hamilton, 2 October 1997

Cyril Connolly: A Life 
by Jeremy Lewis.
Cape, 653 pp., £25, May 1997, 0 224 03710 2
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... He would much rather talk Proust over a posh dinner than sit at home and read a new novel by Jack Priestley. In many respects, and in spite of all the talk about becoming, or not becoming, a great artist, Connolly’s true vocation was to score points as a literary socialite. This being so, he had no wish to be praised for effortful near-misses. Far better ...

Diary

John Bayley: Serious Novels, 10 November 1994

... on the sterling old tradition of the heart being in the right place, as in Arnold Bennett and J.B. Priestley, and it moves rather close to John Wain’s posthumous novel, in his Bildungsroman series about a young man growing up in Oxford – a trifle ironical in view of Amis’s strongly-expressed disdain for Wain’s mode and temper of writing. Both novels ...

The Positions He Takes

John Barrell: Hitchens on Paine, 30 November 2006

Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’: A Biography 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 128 pp., £9.99, July 2006, 1 84354 513 6
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... in France, and Hitchens tells us that among others who wrote replies to Burke, along with Joseph Priestley and Mary Wollstonecraft, was William Godwin, which he wasn’t. He says that, unlike Paine, Wollstonecraft advocated votes for women, which she didn’t. Paine himself, Hitchens says, was not discouraged from writing Part One of Rights of Man by the ...

Be flippant

David Edgar: Noël Coward’s Return, 9 December 1999

1956 and All That 
by Dan Reballato.
Routledge, 265 pp., £40, February 1999, 0 415 18938 1
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Collected Plays: Six 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 415 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73410 2
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Collected Plays: Seven 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 381 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73410 2
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Collected Revue Sketches and Parodies 
by Noël Coward.
Methuen, 282 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 413 73390 4
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Noël Coward: A Life in Quotes 
edited by Barry Day.
Metro, 116 pp., £9.99, November 1999, 9781900512848
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Noël Coward: The Complete Lyrics 
Methuen, 352 pp., £30, December 1998, 0 413 73230 4Show More
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... an extract from Wesker’s The Kitchen. Less emblematic but equally germane is the story, told in Philip Hoare’s 1995 biography, of Coward’s visit to the Court to see David Storey’s grittily realistic Rugby League play The Changing Room. His attention having been drawn to the male genitalia on display in the bath scene, Coward remarked: ‘13 acorns are ...
Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky 
by Patrick Hamilton.
Hogarth, 528 pp., £4.95, June 1987, 0 7012 0751 5
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Trust Me 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 249 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 394 55833 2
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Her Story: A Novel 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 142 pp., £8.95, August 1987, 0 233 98116 0
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... atmosphere, finding its models (and they are very obviously to be detected) in Dickens, J.B. Priestley and Somerset Maugham. It is these antecedents which bring out the work’s true individuality. This consists to a very large extent in the dégustation, as the French say, of boredom: excruciating, fascinating, endless banality, interspersed – not ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I Did in 2015, 7 January 2016

... and we can’t wait to get to know you.’And take you for every penny we can.7 July. Run into Philip and Kersti French in M&S with Philip bent tight over his trolley and using it as a walker. I ask him how he is. ‘Dreadful’. ‘Anything specific?’ ‘Knees. Legs. Lungs. Kidneys … Shall I go on?’ The recital so ...

Alas! Deceived

Alan Bennett: Philip Larkin, 25 March 1993

Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life 
by Andrew Motion.
Faber, 570 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 571 15174 4
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... My mother is such a bloody rambling fool.’ wrote Philip Larkin in 1965, ‘that half the time I doubt her sanity. Two things she said today, for instance, were that she had “thought of getting a job in Woolworth’s” and that she wanted to win the football pools so that she could “give cocktail parties” ...

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