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Antony Jay: The literature behind ‘Yes, Minister’, 22 May 1980

... life during World War Two. And second, comedy also has an extra appeal – at least for Jonathan Lynn and me – when it is actually about something, in the sense that Butterflies and The Good Life are about something.Johnny and I were writing the first script of Yes, Minister at the time that I was deeply involved with Milton Friedman in developing his ...

Because It’s Ugly

Jonathan Rosen: Double-Crested Cormorants, 9 October 2014

The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah 
by Linda Wires.
Yale, 349 pp., £20, June 2014, 978 0 300 18711 3
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... getting some decent attention lately. Last year saw the publication of The Devil’s Cormorant by Richard King, a fine study of several species of the bird on several continents, as well as an argument against its shabby treatment in the US. In 2012 Denis Wild published The Double-Crested Cormorant: Symbol of Ecological Conflict. A decade earlier, Lyanda ...


James Paradis, 18 June 1981

Sir Joseph Banks 
by Charles Lyte.
David and Charles, 248 pp., £10.50, October 1980, 0 7153 7884 8
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The Heyday of Natural History: 1820-1870 
by Lynn Barber.
Cape, 320 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 9780224014489
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A Vision of Eden 
by Marianne North.
Webb and Bower, 240 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 906671 18 3
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... of Banks material, catalogued by Warren Dawson in 1958, that is currently held at Kew Gardens. Lynn Barber’s The Heyday of Natural History: 1820-1870 is a colourful account of the Victorian popularisation and commercialisation of natural history. Popular natural history, as Ms Barber presents it, was an extension of Joseph Banks’s drawing-room ...

Over the Top

Michael Howard, 8 February 1996

A Genius for War: A Life of General George Patton 
by Carlo D’Este.
HarperCollins, 977 pp., £25, November 1995, 0 00 215882 5
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... material for biographers and Patton has had a dozen already, to say nothing of a film that brought Richard Nixon great consolation during the lonely watches of the Watergate nights. Only Erwin Rommel can match Patton in the publicity stakes, and he was a very much duller man. For the British, Patton may have been a minor if spectacular figure in World War ...


Michael Dobson: How to Be a Favourite, 5 October 2006

Literature and Favouritism in Early Modern England 
by Curtis Perry.
Cambridge, 328 pp., £50, February 2006, 0 521 85405 9
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... Oxford, ranger of Snowdon Forest, or high steward of Windsor, Bristol, Reading, Abingdon, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Wallingford, Tewkesbury and St Albans – that he didn’t manage to visit Kenilworth once during the first three years he owned it. Despite the elaborate heraldry he had carved into the walls of the castle, he was an arriviste; though ...


Ferdinand Mount: British Weeping, 17 December 2015

Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears 
by Thomas Dixon.
Oxford, 438 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 0 19 967605 7
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... survival, perhaps doomed to be bred out in the long run as savages became civilised, rather like Richard Dawkins’s view of the religion meme? Is that the implication? If so, this is precisely the opposite of the Christian view, especially in the Middle Ages, that shedding tears was the sign of an advanced soul, one which had been pierced by God. This ...

The Colour of His Eyes

Michael Hofmann: Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 12 March 2009

The Whole Difference: Selected Writings of Hugo von Hofmannsthal 
edited by J.D. McClatchy.
Princeton, 502 pp., £24.95, October 2008, 978 0 691 12909 9
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... a swansong of passivity in the drawing-room; and, above all, the opera libretti he wrote for Richard Strauss: Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Arabella. These, I would say, constitute half a safety-net, half a ball and chain, meaning that Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) won’t ever go away. All the same, when ...


Julian Loose, 25 June 1992

Crystal Rooms 
by Melvyn Bragg.
Hodder, 342 pp., £14.99, June 1992, 0 340 56409 1
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... most charming editor-presenter of the arts’ he rates the accolade of his own Spitting Image. Lynn Barber may have famously delineated his ‘awful smug matey blokiness’ in the pages of the Independent on Sunday, but perhaps that only demonstrates what an inviting target Bragg has become. As a character in Kingdom come (1980) explains, ‘the rules are ...

Coloured Spots v. Iridescence

Steven Rose: Evolutionary Inevitability, 22 March 2018

Improbable Destinies: How Predictable Is Evolution? 
by Jonathan Losos.
Allen Lane, 364 pp., £20, August 2017, 978 0 241 20192 3
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... In The Crucible of Creation (1998) he attacked Gould, ‘biting the hand that once fed him’ as Richard Fortey put it in his review, in a way that made ‘a shoal of piranha seem decorous’.* The range of evolutionary options is tightly constrained, he insisted, and wherever there is life, on earth or any other planet, human-like creatures are likely to ...

Different under the Quill

Tom Johnson: On Paper, 12 May 2022

Paper in Medieval England: From Pulp to Fictions 
by Orietta Da Rold.
Cambridge, 270 pp., £75, October 2020, 978 1 108 84057 6
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... surviving texts written in England on paper are the town registers begun by the port towns of Lynn and Lyme Regis in 1307 and 1309 respectively. Such registers were central to the most important rituals of the urban political calendar, when the town accounts were displayed to the citizenry for assent. Few would have been able to spot anything amiss, but ...


John Sutherland, 21 April 1988

by Stephen King.
Hodder, 320 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 340 39070 0
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The Tommyknockers 
by Stephen King.
Hodder, 563 pp., £12.95, February 1988, 0 340 39069 7
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by Elmore Leonard.
Viking, 245 pp., £10.95, February 1988, 9780670816545
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by Charles Willeford.
Gollancz, 293 pp., £10.95, March 1988, 0 575 04197 8
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by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 282 pp., £10.95, April 1988, 0 571 15147 7
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... circumvented the King-quota limit by bringing out five surplus horror tales under the pseudonym ‘Richard Bachman’. Unfortunately the Bachman books’ disguise was eventually penetrated. But, more significantly, their appeal was drastically altered when their true authorship was publicised. As King observed, Thinner sold 28,000 by ...

Strange Stardom

David Haglund: James Franco, 17 March 2011

Palo Alto: Stories 
by James Franco.
Faber, 197 pp., £12.99, January 2011, 978 0 571 27316 4
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... their littleness. ‘Franco’ is ‘mysterious’, but Franco is not. In a video interview with Lynn Hirschberg of the New York Times, Franco explained that he was deliberately casting mystery aside. I was always taught, like, ‘Don’t do too many interviews, don’t do too many talk shows, don’t reveal too much of yourself as an actor, because then ...


Christopher Hitchens, 19 October 1995

Palimpsest: A Memoir 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 432 pp., £17.99, October 1995, 0 233 98891 2
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... and so never lived to know what I have known – the Beatles, black power, the Administration of Richard Nixon – all this has taken place in a trivial after-time and has nothing to do with anything that really mattered, with summer and someone hardly remembered, a youth so abruptly translated from vivid, well-loved (if briefly) flesh to a few scraps of ...

Brief Encounters

Andrew O’Hagan: Gielgud and Redgrave, 5 August 2004

Gielgud's Letters 
edited by Richard Mangan.
Weidenfeld, 564 pp., £20, March 2004, 0 297 82989 0
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Secret Dreams: A Biography of Michael Redgrave 
by Alan Strachan.
Weidenfeld, 484 pp., £25, April 2004, 0 297 60764 2
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... of themselves when they imagine they are performing for an audience of one. On the strength of Richard Mangan’s edition, we must assume that Gielgud’s contribution to the documenting of theatrical history will be uncertain (‘I had never noticed that Albee had such big ears!’) while his contribution to the understanding of bad character is ...

Fetch the Chopping Knife

Charles Nicholl: Murder on Bankside, 4 November 2021

... that these ‘docu-dramas’ are a new phenomenon, a modern hybrid. Those with long memories cite Richard Brooks’s 1967 film In Cold Blood as a prototype. Based on Truman Capote’s account of a quadruple murder in rural Kansas, the film was shot in vérité black and white and used the actual locations where the killings took place. But the true crime ...

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