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Secrets are like sex

Neal Ascherson, 2 April 2020

The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain 
by Richard Norton-Taylor.
I.B. Tauris, 352 pp., £20, March 2019, 978 1 78831 218 9
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... would call it a roll of honour. From recent years, it would include Clive Ponting, Cathy Massiter, Sarah Tisdall and Katharine Gun. Norton-Taylor seems to have known them all. Most of his best stories, however, came from the numerous civil servants, some of them very senior, who used a discreet journalist to reveal that government was up to something morally ...

Just like Mother

Theo Tait: Richard Yates, 6 February 2003

Collected Stories 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 474 pp., £17.99, January 2002, 0 413 77125 3
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Revolutionary Road 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 346 pp., £6.99, February 2001, 0 413 75710 2
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The Easter Parade 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 226 pp., £10, January 2003, 0 413 77202 0
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... For Frank, lifestyle protest is not an option. His cellmate at work lives what appears to be an F. Scott Fitzgerald life, dissipated but attractive, sinking endless martinis with his heiress wife and friends just in from the Bahamas. Then Frank goes to this man’s home and sees the truth: the wife is ‘a sodden, ageing woman with lips forever painted in the ...

Half Bird, Half Fish, Half Unicorn

Paul Foot, 16 October 1997

Peter Cook: A Biography 
by Harry Thompson.
Hodder, 516 pp., £18.99, September 1997, 0 340 64968 2
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... bullied and then promoted to high office at Radley, I at Shrewsbury. We both had sisters called Sarah who were sent to school in Dorset. We both spent our school holidays with popular aunts and uncles in the West Country, where we were both fired with a passion for hopeless football teams: he for Torquay United, I for Plymouth Argyle. We both, even, had ...

At which Englishman’s speech does English terminate?

Henry Hitchings: The ‘OED’, 7 March 2013

Words of the World: A Global History of the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ 
by Sarah Ogilvie.
Cambridge, 241 pp., £17.99, November 2012, 978 1 107 60569 5
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... to the left of the headword. Murray’s successors William Craigie and Charles Onions tussled over whether to maintain this practice. Proofs of the Supplement dated 11 September 1929 retain Murray’s so-called tramlines; in the next proofs, dated 2 July 1930, they are gone. Between these dates, Onions joined the BBC Advisory Committee on Spoken English, where he became acutely aware of the prejudices that led some people to stigmatise new or imported terms; tramlines, he felt, didn’t help ...

The Purchas’d Wave

Bernard Rudden: The history of London’s water supply, 22 July 2004

London's New River 
by Robert Ward.
Historical Publications, 248 pp., £17.95, October 2003, 0 948667 84 2
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... Robert Harley, held their shares in right of their wives, Flower Backhouse in the first case and Sarah Myddelton in the second. Nor does he dwell much on the profitability of the shares and their suitability as security for a loan, or as a family endowment. For instance, the share that cost Sir Henry Neville some £289 around 1612 produced, over the 292 ...

His Peach Stone

Christopher Tayler: J.G. Farrell, 2 December 2010

J.G. Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries 
edited by Lavinia Greacen.
Cork, 464 pp., €19.95, September 2010, 978 1 85918 476 9
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... of Cardinal Newman might have been another matter’). Edward, in turn, has an affair with Sarah Devlin, a sharp-tongued Catholic girl from a nearby village, while fulminating against Irish disloyalty and growing more and more eccentric – violently so, in the end. But the plotting is less important than the large-scale set pieces, such as a ...

‘It was everything’

Eliot Weinberger: The Republican Convention, 11 August 2016

... Party stayed away: all of the previous presidential and vice-presidential nominees (even Sarah Palin), with the exception of the nonagenarian Bob Dole; the Bush family and anyone who held an important post in the administrations of either Bush; 11 of the 16 candidates who ran against Trump in the primaries; the two most prominent Republicans in the ...

Of the Mule Breed

David Bromwich: Robert Southey, 21 May 1998

Robert Southey: A Life 
by Mark Storey.
Oxford, 405 pp., £25, April 1997, 0 19 811246 7
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... was solemnised by Southey and Coleridge in joint marriage to a pair of sisters, Edith and Sarah Fricker – a lucky shot for Southey, very much less so for Coleridge. The commune that never took shape is now embalmed in a few poems and the Platonic heat of a frank correspondence; but the friends worked steadily in Bristol in 1795, from an energy of ...

Collapse of the Sofa Cushions

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 24 March 1994

Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics 
by Isobel Armstrong.
Routledge, 545 pp., £35, October 1993, 0 415 03016 1
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The Woman Reader: 1837-1914 
by Kate Flint.
Oxford, 366 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 19 811719 1
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... its readers, before going on to issue the usual warnings against Richardson and Smollett. For Sarah Stickney Ellis, poetry was particularly suited to women readers because it is removed from ‘the realities of material and animal existence’. On the other hand, much of the autobiographical evidence that Flint has assembled suggests that any work could ...

Where am I in all this?

Michael Newton: Pola Negri, 19 February 2015

Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale 
by Mariusz Kotowski.
Kentucky, 322 pp., £29.95, April 2014, 978 0 8131 4488 7
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... own words that her models were the divas of opera and theatre, or the great dancers of ballet: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse et al (silent movies are much closer to ballet and grand theatre than they are to Breaking Bad). Both Bernhardt and Duse offered the young Negri the same melancholy advice: one could choose perfection of the life or perfection of ...

The Stream in the Sky

John Barrell: Thomas Telford, 22 March 2018

Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain 
by Julian Glover.
Bloomsbury, 403 pp., £10.99, January 2018, 978 1 4088 3748 1
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... aqueduct in Britain: the oldest, highest and longest. ‘The stream in the sky’, as Walter Scott called it, at Pontcysyllte on the Llangollen Canal, is also attributed to Telford, though with the active collaboration of the more senior engineer William Jessop and the ironmaster William Hazledine. It consists of an iron trough supported on arched iron ...
... to bed as Cleverly and the staff were putting it out with a hose. In bed I read Maurice Baring on Sarah Bernhardt in his Puppet Show of Memory until I fell asleep. I was called at seven on Thursday by telephone (the bell interrupted a fantastic and vivid dream about fire-bombs in London). The programme for the day had nothing to do with victory, but was to ...

The Reptile Oculist

John Barrell, 1 April 2004

... and Sidmouth. There were fellow poets such as Felicia Hemans, Tom Moore, Samuel Rogers, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Southey; artists of various kinds including the gifted amateur Sir George Beaumont, Francis Chantry, John Constable, Thomas Lawrence, James Northcote and John Soane; and from the theatre, Jack Bannister, George Colman the younger, various ...

‘The Meeting of the Waters’

John Barrell, 27 July 2017

... of the Greta and the Tees on the Rokeby estate in Teesdale, thought to have been named by Walter Scott after the song of that title by the Irish Romantic poet Thomas Moore. This was then the only place I knew of so named. Next came a beautiful lake at Killarney which turned out to be called the Meeting of the Waters; again, it’s believed, at ...

Heroes of Our Time

Karl Miller, 19 May 1988

The Monument 
by T. Behrens.
Cape, 258 pp., £11.95, May 1988, 0 224 02510 4
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The Passion of John Aspinall 
by Brian Masters.
Cape, 360 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 0 224 02353 5
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... to improvements suggested by Mr Aspinall. It has been altogether a happy experience.’ ‘Lady Sarah Aspinall has shown exemplary patience with my intrusions, for which I am most grateful ...’ ‘In addition,’ Mr Masters writes, ‘there have been a great number of people who have been willing to share their reminiscences with me, and I trust they will ...

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