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Bernie’s War

Philip Purser, 23 May 1991

A German Requiem 
by Philip Kerr.
Viking, 306 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 0 670 83516 1
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... Philip Kerr’s detective hero Bernie Gunther is Sam Spade with raw herring on his breath and a smattering of German or Germanic slang (‘Kripo’ for the Criminal Police, ‘bulls’ for policemen, ‘chocoladies’ for those of dubious virtue) stirred into his tough private-eye talk. He drags on a cigarette, keeps a bottle in his desk, has a way with women but not much luck with them ...

Gruff Embraces

Philip Purser, 21 October 1993

The Expense of Glory: A Life of John Reith 
by Ian McIntyre.
HarperCollins, 447 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 00 215963 5
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... Reading Ian McIntyre’s new Life of Reith I found myself longing for just one deed, one word, one sentiment from the great man which I could admire. In public office, notably as the architect and first Director-General of the BBC, he may have achieved a number of admirable ends, if fewer than pious legend attributes to him. But the arrogance, bitterness and venom towards others he reveals in his private papers would blister paint ...

Hitler’s Common Market

Philip Purser, 6 August 1992

Fatherland 
by Robert Harris.
Hutchinson, 372 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 09 174827 5
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... best-known novels based on the premise of a German or Axis victory are Len Deighton’s SS GB and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I can remember two no less interesting television variations on the theme: Giles Cooper’s epic play The Other Man, and a serial by Philip Mackie, An Englishman’s ...

Videonazis

Philip Purser, 13 June 1991

Hitler’s State Archltecture: The Impact of Classical Antiquity 
by Alex Scoble.
Pennsylvania State, 152 pp., £28.50, October 1990, 0 271 00691 9
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Totalitarian Art 
by Igor Golomstock, translated by Robert Chandler.
Collins Harvill, 416 pp., £30, September 1990, 0 00 272806 0
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... As a young soldier in Germany at the end of the war I was dropped head first into two manifestations of the Third Reich which half a century later continue to exert a peculiar fascination. After two months in what became the Russian occupied zone, the field company to which I belonged was moved back to the Harz Mountains area. We were told we would henceforth be located in somewhere called Lebenstedt ...

Serious Dr Sonne

Philip Purser, 6 December 1990

The Play of the Eyes 
by Elias Canetti, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Deutsch, 329 pp., £14.95, August 1990, 0 233 98570 0
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Yellow Street 
by Veza Canetti, translated by Ian Mitchell.
Halban, 139 pp., £11.95, November 1990, 1 870015 36 3
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... At the beginning of the third volume of his autobiography, Elias Canetti is still in his twenties. He has been cooped up for a year in a bed-sitter on the outskirts of Vienna with only a print of the Isenheim altar as company, working on the grim novel that was eventually to be called Auto da Fé. Early one morning he catches the first workman’s train into town, dashes through empty streets and lets himself into the apartment of his loved one, later his wife, Veza – she has given him a latchkey against such an eventuality ...

Who, me?

Philip Purser, 3 December 1992

The Sieve of Time: Memoirs 
by Leni Riefenstahl.
Quartet, 669 pp., £30, September 1992, 0 7043 7021 2
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... Does anyone remember Little Me – a fictional autobiography published by Patrick Dennis 30 years ago in mockery of the self-adulatory memoirs which gushed, as they still gush, from actor-dramatists and other multi-talented luvvies? Little Me would not only conduct the symphony he had composed for the inaugural concert in the splendid new concert hall, he was also the architect who had designed the splendid new concert hall ...

Diary

Philip Purser: On Jack Trevor Story, 27 January 1994

... There’s no doubt that Jack Trevor Story was a dab hand at titles. Man Pinches Bottom, One Last Mad Embrace, Little Dog’s Day and Live Now, Pay Later are good enticements and accurately indicate the plot, predicament and even the moral of each novel. His most famous title is still his first, The Trouble with Harry (1949), thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, who acquired the film rights for $500 but made a classic film out of a shabby deal ...

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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... Early in Huw Wheldon’s television career, when the programme with which he made his name, Monitor, was about a year old, he had to deal with a minor ethical point. He had flown to Switzerland with a film unit to interview Georges Simenon, still in his prime and turning out five or six novels a year. Wheldon was fascinated by Simenon’s method of work: the preliminaries of choosing names and backgrounds for his characters, undergoing a medical check, setting Mme Simenon to clean dozens of pipes, sharpening eighty pencils and then immuring himself in a turret room for exactly eleven days, at the end of which he emerged wearing the same shirt as when he went in but bearing a finished manuscript ...

The Great Escape

Philip Purser, 18 August 1994

The Fortunes of Casanova, and Other Stories 
by Rafael Sabatini, selected by Jack Adrian.
Oxford, 284 pp., £15.95, January 1994, 9780192123190
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... That the literary name of one age can mean nothing to the next is both a truism and a comfort; it would be depressing to have to think that in 40 years, or even five, people might still be reading the effusions of – well, write in your own candidates from today’s bestseller lists. What does seem to be less predictable is the process that will sometimes restore a lost household name ...

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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... Of all the innovations of the 20th century, none has so completely penetrated and combined with everyday life as broadcasting. It would be difficult to find many people born in Britain in the past forty years who did not grow up to Muffin the Mule or Thunderbirds or Dr Who, and for whom the television set has been other than a natural adjunct to existence ever since ...

Remembering the taeog

D.A.N. Jones, 30 August 1990

People of the Black Mountains. Vol. II: The Eggs of the Eagle 
by Raymond Williams.
Chatto, 330 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 7011 3564 6
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In the Blue Light of African Dreams 
by Paul Watkins.
Heinemann, 282 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 09 174307 9
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Friedrich Harris: Shooting the hero 
by Philip Purser.
Quartet, 250 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 7043 2759 7
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The Journey Home 
by Dermot Bolger.
Viking, 294 pp., £13.99, June 1990, 0 670 83215 4
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Evenings at Mongini’s 
by Russell Lucas.
Heinemann, 262 pp., £12.95, January 1990, 0 434 43646 1
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... mood, the period, of the artist and his contemporaries, rather than that of his subject-matter. Philip Purser offers a different kind of plausibility in his costume-drama, Friedrich Harris: Shooting the hero, set in the Forties, a period the author well remembers. It is presented as a memoir by Herr Harris: half-German, half-Irish, once a Nazi ...

Follies

George Melly, 4 April 1991

A Surrealist Life 
by John Lowe.
Collins, 262 pp., £18, February 1991, 0 00 217941 5
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... his own and suspect version of it, but he always turned against the end-product and its author. Philip Purser, for instance (‘Nosy Parker’ in Edward’s usual post-publication demonology), tried hard, in his short but entertaining The Extraordinary Worlds of Edward James (1978), to achieve detachment, but there is inevitably a feel of his ...

In Finest Fig

E.S. Turner: The Ocean Greyhounds, 20 October 2005

The Liner: Retrospective and Renaissance 
by Philip Dawson, foreword by Stephen Payne.
Conway Maritime, 256 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 85177 938 7
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... masters, cutting out the ship’s stewards, a Cunard carry-on I did not know about until I read Philip Dawson’s The Liner. Perhaps such things also happened aboard the ‘ocean greyhounds’ of the Axis. Hitler’s dashing duo were the Bremen, which had a catapult-operated light aircraft, and the Europa; Mussolini’s matched pair were the Rex and the ...

Impossible Conception

T.J. Reed: ‘Death in Venice’, 25 September 2014

Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach 
by Philip Kitcher.
Columbia, 254 pp., £20.50, November 2013, 978 0 02 311626 1
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... palatable to the middle classes’. The novella’s effect was all the stronger for not being – Philip Kitcher misreads it – about ‘a closet homosexual’ who has ‘refused to acknowledge his sexual inclinations’. Unlike his fully self-aware creator, who, though never a practising homosexual (‘how can one sleep with men?’ he asked in a 1950 diary ...

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