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Keeping mum

Stephen Sedley, 2 March 1989

The Spycatcher Trial 
by Malcolm Turnbull.
Heinemann, 228 pp., £12.95, October 1988, 0 434 79156 3
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Reform of the Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911: Government White Paper 
HMSO, 16 pp., £2.60, June 1988, 0 10 104082 2Show More
Official Secrets Bill 
HMSO, 14 pp., £3, December 1988, 0 10 300989 2Show More
Security Service Bill 
HMSO, 8 pp., £2.60, November 1988, 9780103007892Show More
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... England as he imagined it would be in 1953, accurately linked the mandarin élitism of the Civil Service with its determination to control the supply of public information. What is new in the present decade is the assumption of power by a government which shares this determination but which also has definite and disturbing ends in view. Nevertheless the ...

Father and Son

Tony Gould, 23 June 1988

When the fighting is over: A Personal Story of the Battle for Tumbledown Mountain and its Aftermath 
by John Lawrence and Robert Lawrence.
Bloomsbury, 196 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 0 7475 0174 2
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Tumbledown 
by Charles Wood.
Penguin, 80 pp., £3.95, April 1988, 0 14 011198 0
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... that Tumbledown was the name of one of the few serious battles in the Falklands campaign and that Robert Lawrence was the platoon commander in the 2nd Battalion, the Scots Guards, who had 40 per cent of his brain removed by a sniper’s bullet after he had earned himself a Military Cross by his bravery. Even before the film was shown on BBC television on 31 ...

Both Ends of the Tub

Thomas Karshan: Nicholson Baker, 24 July 2003

A Box of Matches 
by Nicholson Baker.
Chatto, 178 pp., £10, February 2003, 0 7011 7402 1
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... its suggestion that thought and lust might not be distinguishable. Emmett’s favourite poet is Robert Service, once famous for his doggerel about frontier life and American virtue, and probably the last poet to be widely read in America. A poem of his that Emmett mentions, ‘The Men that Don’t Fit in’, is a homily in favour of a settled ...

The Other Half

Robert Melville, 4 July 1985

Kenneth Clark: A Biography 
by Meryle Secrest.
Weidenfeld, 310 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 9780297783985
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... Suddenly I thought: ‘My God, he’s going to speak to me!’ ‘Am I right in thinking you’re Robert Melville?’ he said. ‘My name is Clark.’ ‘Indisputably, Sir Kenneth,’ I answered. I remember the word I used, because as soon as I said it I realised that it was ludicrously inappropriate. And I went on quickly: ‘It’s a fine Pasmore, isn’t ...

Bard of Friendly Fire

Robert Crawford: The Radical Burns, 25 July 2002

Robert Burns: Poems 
edited by Don Paterson.
Faber, 96 pp., £4.99, February 2001, 0 571 20740 5
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The Canongate Burns: The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns 
edited by Andrew Noble and Patrick Scott Hogg.
Canongate, 1017 pp., £40, November 2001, 0 86241 994 8
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... Aberdeen philosopher Thomas Blackwell was writing that Homer was a ‘stroling indigent Bard’. Robert Burns liked that idea. In ‘Love and Liberty’ a bard sings alongside prostitutes and tinkers, and pronounces himself ‘Homer like’. Burns’s footnote (Burns enjoyed footnotes) points out cheekily that ‘Homer is allowed to be the oldest ...

Secret Services

Robert Cecil, 4 April 1985

The Soviet Union and Terrorism 
by Roberta Goren.
Allen and Unwin, 232 pp., £17.50, November 1984, 0 04 327073 5
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The Great Purges 
by Isaac Deutscher and David King.
Blackwell, 176 pp., £12.50, November 1984, 0 631 13923 0
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SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-46 
by M.R.D. Foot.
BBC, 280 pp., £8.50, October 1984, 0 563 20193 2
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A History of the SAS Regiment 
by John Strawson.
Secker, 292 pp., £12.95, November 1984, 0 436 49992 4
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... in their hands from the start of the final solution’. It is not the business of a secret service to disseminate intelligence to any persons other than those who can make good use of it. The wider the circulation, the greater the risk to the source. The only thing that would stop Hitler from exterminating Jews was to defeat him: until and unless this ...

War Poet

Robert Crawford, 24 May 1990

O Choille gu Bearradh/From Wood to Ridge: Collected Poems in Gaelic and English 
by Sorley MacLean.
Carcanet, 317 pp., £18.95, October 1989, 0 85635 844 4
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... MacLean, a Gael born on the Hebridean island of Raasay in 1911, almost gave his life in the service of the British Crown when he was blown up by a land-mine at El Alamein in 1942; holding strong Communist and Scottish Nationalist views, he had decided he would fight because he was convinced Hitler would attack Russia, and because (as he wrote to ...

Hitler’s Belgian Partner

Robert Paxton, 27 January 1994

Collaboration in Belgium: Léon Degrelle and the Rexist Movement 
by Martin Conway.
Yale, 364 pp., £30, October 1993, 0 300 05500 5
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... various organisations enlisted about 12,000 people (2500 of them for frontline military service in the Légion Wallonie and about as many for paramilitary service at home). Surrounded by a modest penumbra of sympathisers, the activists barely exceeded 1 per cent of the Belgian population. Conway makes clear ...

Capitalism’s Capital

Jackson Lears: The Man Who Built New York, 17 March 2016

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York 
by Robert Caro.
Bodley Head, 1246 pp., £35, July 2015, 978 1 84792 364 6
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... Robert Moses​ was a modernist pharaoh. Over the forty years from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, he became a virtual dictator of public works in all five boroughs of New York and much of its suburban surroundings. Almost singlehandedly, through chicanery, fraud and bullying, he created the modern infrastructure of the New York City area: expressways, tunnels and bridges, but also parks, beaches, swimming pools and high-rise housing projects ...

Scribblers and Assassins

Charles Nicholl: The Crimes of Thomas Drury, 31 October 2002

... Marlowe filled the air at this time. Hints had appeared in print, in the loquacious pamphlets of Robert Greene and Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Nashe, but more damagingly precise were the reports of Government informers – a flourishing trade in the police-state atmosphere of late Elizabethan London. There are two key documents, generally referred to as the ...

Advised by experts

David Worswick, 21 December 1989

The Economic Section, 1939-1961: A Study in Economic Advising 
by Alec Cairncross and Nita Watts.
Routledge, 372 pp., £40, May 1989, 0 415 03173 7
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The Robert Hall Diaries. Vol. I: 1947-1953 
edited by Alec Cairncross.
Unwin Hyman, 400 pp., £40, May 1989, 9780044452737
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... Nowadays there are nearly four hundred members of the Government Economic Service, distributed through the various ministries and departments, with a sizable concentration in the Treasury. It will come as a surprise to most people that at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was no professional economist with major responsibility employed in any of the central departments of government ...

Diary

Robert Fothergill: Among the Leavisites, 12 September 2019

... himself. What did we look like, the incoming cohort of 1958, the first mostly not to have National Service? We were mainly middle class – Downing wasn’t a posh college – with many from Northern England, especially from Manchester Grammar School. The college, though quite lovely in its neoclassical way, lacked the grandeur of the older foundations, and ...

Subversions

R.W. Johnson, 4 June 1987

Traitors: The Labyrinths of Treason 
by Chapman Pincher.
Sidgwick, 346 pp., £13.95, May 1987, 0 283 99379 0
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The Secrets of the ServiceBritish Intelligence and Communist Subversion 1939-51 
by Anthony Glees.
Cape, 447 pp., £18, May 1987, 0 224 02252 0
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Freedom of Information – Freedom of the Individual? 
by Clive Ponting, John Ranelagh, Michael Zander and Simon Lee, edited by Julia Neuberger.
Macmillan, 110 pp., £4.95, May 1987, 0 333 44771 9
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... The Peter Wright trial in Australia has recently brought out the full absurdity of this, with Sir Robert Armstrong attempting at one point to suggest that the very existence of MI5 and MI6 (let alone the identity of their directors) was a secret which could neither be confirmed nor denied. There is no other state in the world which behaves like this and ...

When the Jaw-Jaw Failed

Miles Taylor: Company Rule in India, 3 March 2016

The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 
by Ferdinand Mount.
Simon & Schuster, 784 pp., £12.99, January 2016, 978 1 4711 2946 9
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... his friend and neighbour, did give him an honourable mention – ‘the Nestor of the political service’ – in his famous chronicle of the mutiny. That aside, he disappeared from view. Until the summer of 2010, that is, when it was revealed that Low’s family was distantly related to David Cameron’s. Shortly after the prime minister returned from his ...

Murder in Mayfair

Peter Pomerantsev, 30 March 2016

A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West 
by Luke Harding.
Faber, 424 pp., £12.99, March 2016, 978 1 78335 093 3
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... was trying to bury the case, Marina Litvinenko pushed for an inquest into her husband’s murder. Robert Owen, a High Court judge, promised an ‘open and fearless’ investigation. In 2013 the foreign secretary, William Hague, made an application for ‘public interest immunity’ – which meant that the government’s classified files on Litvinenko ...

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