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Horrid Boy

Polly Toynbee, 17 April 1980

Mother and Son 
by Jeremy Seabrook.
Gollancz, 189 pp., £6.95, October 1979, 9780575026889
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... If some test-tube baby of the future, or some creature born of spontaneous generation, wanted to know something about mothers, I might recommend Mother and Son for at least one view of that relationship. But for the rest of us, who already know a bit about mothers, most of it comes as less than a revelation. The book is an autobiography of Seabrook’s working-class childhood in Northampton during and just after the war ...

Kith, Kin and Cuckoo

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, 5 December 1985

Lost Children: The Story of Adopted Children Searching for their Mothers 
by Polly Toynbee.
Hutchinson, 288 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 09 160440 0
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... In Lost Children Polly Toynbee has, for reasons she never makes clear, interviewed many – she does not say how many – adopted children who, after the Children’s Act of 1975 was passed, set out in search of their biological parents. Her book presents us with nine ‘case-studies’ of children who searched for and found their parents, not always with happy results ...

Corbyn’s Progress

Tariq Ali, 3 March 2016

... support. The Blairite cohort that dominates the Guardian’s opinion pages – Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee et al – had zero impact on the result, desperate though they were to trash Corbyn. They were desperate enough even to give space – twice – to Blair himself, in the hope of rehabilitating him. Naturally, the paper lost many ...


Lizzy Davies: ‘The Night Cleaner’, 3 November 2011

The Night Cleaner 
by Florence Aubenas, translated by Andrew Brown.
Polity, 184 pp., £14.99, 0 7456 5199 2
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... But if Aubenas says little else about it in her book, such qualms are addressed head-on by Polly Toynbee and Barbara Ehrenreich in their accounts of going undercover, Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain and Nickel and Dimed. Both of them insist that what they are attempting is not to experience in an authentic sense the lives of these workers but ...

Sleazy, Humiliated, Despised

Ross McKibbin: Can Labour survive Blair?, 7 September 2006

... badly wrong) there is less agreement as to exactly what that something is. In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee, a loyalish, if increasingly exasperated supporter, sees the problem as ‘cowardice’: a party and government of basically progressive reformers, who have done many good things but are paralysed by Iraq, Afghanistan and now Lebanon, and a ...

Corbyn in the Media

Paul Myerscough, 22 October 2015

... it into the shade and into context, were the contributions of the Guardian’s big beasts, Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland. Toynbee began by comprehensively misreading the moment, refusing to believe that party activists who had ‘heard what people said on the doorsteps’ about Miliband and the deficit ...

Homeric Cheese v. Technophiliac Relish

David Cooper: GM food, 18 May 2000

... to us – including the benefits to humankind which biotechnologists typically have in view. Polly Toynbee fails to note the irony when, in her Radio Times column, she first complains of the sentimentality of opponents of animal experiments and then invites us to reflect how we would feel if a girl’s life might have been saved through such ...

Who’s the real cunt?

Andrew O’Hagan: Dacre’s Paper, 1 June 2017

Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the ‘Daily Mail’, the Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain 
by Adrian Addison.
Atlantic, 407 pp., £20, March 2017, 978 1 78239 970 4
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... Dacre enjoys fulminating against the machinations of the liberal elite, when all he means is that Polly Toynbee and Andrew Marr may have had dinner in the same North London restaurant as Jon Snow. He wishes to stir up populist disgust at the idea of a liberal, self-satisfied elite – nice, coming from the back of a chauffeur-driven car or from the ...

Woof, woof

Rosemary Hill: Auberon Waugh, 7 November 2019

A Scribbler in Soho: A Celebration of Auberon Waugh 
edited by Naim Attallah.
Quartet, 341 pp., £20, January 2019, 978 0 7043 7457 7
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... colleagues were devastated, his enemies rejoiced. Two days later the Guardian published a piece by Polly Toynbee denouncing Waugh as one of the ‘reactionary fogeys’ whose icon was Evelyn Waugh. ‘Effete, drunken, snobbish, sneering, racist and sexist’, he was a writer of ‘limited vocabulary’ whose work was ‘empty and destructive’. Eighteen ...

Famous Four

R.W. Johnson, 30 November 1995

SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party 
by Ivor Crewe and Anthony King.
Oxford, 611 pp., £25, November 1995, 0 19 828050 5
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... into the Alliance, he still carried with him not only a posse of adoring women – Sue Slipman, Polly Toynbee and Rosie Barnes among them – but even such a seasoned campaigner as John Cartwright. One reads their names and wonders how true believers in Elmer Gantry felt when the charisma wore off.Crewe and King talk of the Gang of Four in almost ...

Self-Made Women

John Sutherland, 11 July 1991

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present 
edited by Virginia Blain, Isobel Grundy and Patricia Clements.
Batsford, 1231 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 7134 5848 8
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The Presence of the Present: Topics of the Day in the Victorian Novel 
by Richard Altick.
Ohio State, 854 pp., $45, March 1991, 0 8142 0518 6
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... Barbara Wootton. In general, journalists get a raw deal. There is no entry on Katharine Whitehorn, Polly Toynbee, Nancy Spain, Helen Gurley Brown. Agony aunts get an even rawer deal: Marje Proops, Anne Landers and Dear Abby are firmly out. Pauline Réage is not given the benefit of the gender doubt. There is a noticeable favouritism towards the French ...

Thinking the unthinkable

John Naughton, 4 September 1980

... gets is of people awakening from a long sleep and wondering where they have been all this time. Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, put it well when she recounted how she walked into the CND offices to renew her long-lapsed subscription with the kind of embarrassment one might feel returning to the church of one’s youth. There, in the cramped ...


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

... keep sitting down, and with no warders on duty I’ll generally sit on their chairs. An article by Polly Toynbee in this morning’s Guardian explains why. Presumably as part of the sponsorship deal for the exhibition the wardering was outsourced so the first casualty was the warders’ chairs, and the warders’ comfort. (I’ve a feeling that the ...


Stefan Collini: Aspiration etc…, 8 April 2010

Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions 
Cabinet Office, 167 pp., July 2009Show More
British Social Attitudes: The 26th Report 
National Centre for Social Research, 294 pp., £50, January 2010, 978 1 84920 387 6Show More
An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel 
Government Equalities Office, 457 pp., January 2010Show More
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... especially if, as is likely, they have paid attention to the discussion of recent studies such as Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s Unjust Rewards (2008) or Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s The Spirit Level (2009).* But what should remain shocking is the way in which the officially endorsed language of ‘aspiration’ occludes the stark facts of ...

Who was David Peterley?

Michael Holroyd, 15 November 1984

... but their fears of becoming the dupes of a sinister literary plot now seem exaggerated. Philip Toynbee, for example, who declared that he had never really been taken in for a minute, his scepticism having been awakened early on by the frontispiece (you can’t get much earlier in a book than its frontispiece), obviously had been taken in and felt let ...

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