In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Oh for the oo trayWilliam Feaver

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye 
by Jane Stevenson.
Cape, 496 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 224 07875 7
Show More
Show More

Delicately, like a surgeon baring a pus-filled appendix, the man behind the counter slices a catering-size salami. His customer feeds a sandwich into her mouth, careful not to smudge the lipstick. Dolled up to the nines and facing professional competition from the pair of high-heeled legs just visible through the street door, she averts her eyes and readies herself for the first bite.

Where are we? If the taxi outside is anything to go by, Edward Burra’s The Snack Bar, an oil painting from 1930 in the Tate (but rarely shown), is set in Paris or Toulon or, plausibly, in a Frenchified Soho. Closer inspection reveals a Metro sign across the street, surely the clincher. But no: John Davenport, writing in Lilliput 17 years later, claimed he knew the joint concerned. ‘If you know Hastings really well you may recognise it.’

Hastings or wherever (‘Burra-Burra Land’ Davenport called it), Burra created here one of his finest greed scenes, stiff with innuendo. The place is a composite. The salami slicer with the Swiss roll hairdo could well be Burra himself, or his best friend ‘Dearie’ Billy Chappell. The hands incidentally look prosthetic while Burra’s own hands were grievously swollen and clawed. He had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and pernicious anaemia since childhood; for him every floppy pink slice of life was something to be eyed and fingered like a mouthwatering sin of the flesh.

Burra’s art was singularly mannered and derisive, his detailing elaborate bordering on pernickety, his superficiality barbed, his outlook sharpened and constricted by circumstances. The people of Burra-Burra Land, leering in every mirror and through every grille, were types drawn from Arthur Rackham, from Puck of Pook’s Hill, Photoplay and Comic Cuts, and dirty postcards. Even the fearsome Hispanic spooks were local villains, flashers at worst. And everywhere Burra went, with the possible exception of the North Pennines and extreme Mexico, reminded him of places in Sussex, his home county. From Brewster, Cape Cod, he wrote to Billy Chappell: ‘Its Hastings realy, the figures dearie! I don’t know how they dare parade themselves about with the most terrible gams & hanging bottoms of Babylon in very tight shorts.’

The speech patterns preserved in Well Dearie! The Letters of Edward Burra (1985) match the graphic style: lots of hilarity and drawl. Indeed Burra drew much the same way as he wrote, hunched over a table, outlining and colouring in as though composing sentences into paragraphs of eyebrow-raising entertainment. He used watercolour mainly, partly for ease of working, inching across the Whatman Antique, but also because he liked to tint. Watercolour is particularly good, he found, for grandiose magic lantern effects.

Presumably it was decided early on by Jane Stevenson or Cape (perhaps both) that, given the wealth of filmed interviews, surviving correspondence with racy friends and the ever interesting state of his health tested by remarkably extensive travels, Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye could be published unillustrated. That is, without reproductions of any of the paintings. (Part of The Tea-Shop, 1929, one of Burra’s Naughtee Paree numbers, perfect for a Folio Society Ronald Firbank reprint, makes it to the dust jacket.) Pictures, it’s true, might distract from the commissioned narrative and, anyway, biographers of painters should avoid frisking pictures for personal disclosures. Yet of all 20th-century British artists, Burra was the one who gossiped most in his art, devilling away at the details like another Dadd. Where Stanley Spencer laced his Cookham scenes with the Song of Solomon and Havelock Ellis, forever explicating in spidery handwriting, Burra made his Burra-Burra pictures speak for themselves – i.e. for him – without notes. Descriptive accounts of a few of them, here and there in the book, are no substitute.

Slipped in among many photos of family and friends, as if in defiance of an editorial dictat, are two early drawings. One is of Nanny McCallum – ‘Mrs Marsupial’, Burra called her (though not to her face) – and the other is of Betsy, his youngest sister, to whom he was devoted and whose death in 1929 at the age of 12 he communicated to art school friends in Bunterish schoolboy language: ‘And now shes croaked.’

Stevenson talks of Burra’s ‘habitual facetiousness’ and ‘camp irony’ in times of grief or pain. When things became too much he carried on behind screeds of banter. The letters, even those to his closest friends, Chappell, a ballet dancer, and Barbara Ker-Seymer, a photographer and launderette owner, rarely confide beyond being rude about third parties. Sex? Forget it. If he was to be believed, it took screen goddess Mae West to get him going to the extent of achieving an erection and that, he said, happened just once.

Protestations delivered for laughs are gags, not affidavits. Stevenson engages as an accomplished storyteller, not an intrusive sleuth, with such life as Burra enjoyed, describing background and encounters rather than teasing out the concerns that call out for attention in the life’s work. ‘Oh these memories down Memory Lane, theyre all very well in small quantities but not to be heaped on as one goes on.’

Burra was born in 1905, one year after Dalí, and brought up in Springfield Lodge, a good size house with a monkey puzzle tree in front and, before the Great War, as many as eight servants to hand. Springfield, near Rye, remained his home until he was in his late forties and it furnished him with enough domestic imagery for a lifetime. ‘Victorian watercolours in the drawing-room,’ Stevenson writes, ‘and a model of the Taj Mahal under a glass dome. There was a stuffed barn owl on the mantelpiece.’ His father was keenly conventional; his mother enjoyed ill health and cosseted herself and little Edward (‘dearest Snooks’), whose rheumatoid arthritis and subsequent ailments left him in poor shape and without an Eton education, despite which he survived into his seventies. His sister Anne was an ally throughout. He found her reliably sympathetic: ‘I dont think she cares a fig realy – she is like me.’ His cousin Lawrence also proved like-minded; the pair of them took to calling themselves Gladys and Phyllis Dilly. Edward as Gladys doubled once as Widow Twankey.

The Dilly sisters were imagined belles of Rye, the cobbled and gabled ‘Tinkerbell Towne’, as Burra dubbed it, where memories of Henry James and Stephen Crane were fresh and sightings of Radclyffe Hall and her friend Una, Lady Troubridge, lent a touch of verisimilitude to the farcical Rye that, passed off as ‘Tilling’, was the abode of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia and ‘Quaint Irene’, the resident Post-Impressionist. Burra thrived on literary and artistic connections and, in 1926, even went so far as to exhibit alongside the Quaint Irenes of the Rye Art Society: ‘Oh dear you should see it No. 1 is old Mill at Twinkleton no 2 is moonlight and old tinned Salmon & no 3 is “Church of Santa Maria del Tomato Assisi”. I have sent a dreadful little thing I did at the Chelsea P.’

‘Chelsea P’ was the Chelsea Polytechnic where, at 16, Burra met Ker-Seymer and Chappell, aka ‘Fishnet Annie’. Ganging up with them he developed his mocking style, the verbal at this stage outplaying the pictorial. His fashion notes (‘Around the bottom roses à la poached egs’) were more eye-catching than his pastoral scenes à la Claud Lovat Fraser and Chelsea set subjects such as ‘The Thief’ from Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie, for which he drew a kidnapper with a sackful of kiddies prancing past wigwam mountains and silhouette trees.

Burra probably attended de la Mare’s lecture on ‘Atmosphere in Fiction’ at the Royal College of Art in April 1923, since he started there as soon as he was 18. The college magazine reported a ‘surprisingly lively and prompt discussion’ afterwards: Burra, ‘a silent, pale boy’, as John Rothenstein described him, would not have joined in, yet undoubtedly he derived something like inspiration from de la Mare’s archness turned gruesome:

Grill me some bones, said the Cobbler,
Some bones, my pretty Sue …

The standard line on Burra is that he took his cue from Continental graphic artists: Caran d’Ache, for one, and George Grosz obviously. But even when he was producing the sort of stuff now classified by the dealers as Art Deco, his traits, ghoulish yet lyrical in tone and atmosphere, evoke de la Mare.

A screech across the sands!
That sullen Thump!
Oh, wicked Mr Punch …

A splendid variety of weaknesses for this and that, the barbed and the hammy, flavoured Burra’s style. He drew on Dicky Doyle and Edward Lear (both comic and topographic) and Ridgewell’s illustrations to Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes. Later on he produced still lifes stocked with gleaming pots and pans like those in Geppetto’s gemütlich workplace in Disney’s Pinocchio. The final landscapes often look as if attuned to the lovingly asserted grottiness of Middle England in Giles cartoons.

Stevenson deems Burra ‘far more of an intellectual than most 20th-century painters’. Fair enough in the sense that he read widely, if dismissively: ‘A book by D.H. Lawrence which is so full of guts and maleness and femaleness it gives me the fidgets.’ But his intellectual curiosity was nothing like as studied as that of Paul Nash, a somewhat patronising friend, who construed metaphysicality if not surreality wherever he chanced to look. Nash came to live near Rye in 1925 and, Burra gleefully reported, was subjected by his wife to the local music scene: ‘He said my dear must you? when Mrs N executed a few steps of the dear old Elizabethan farragado “Maiden heds Bung ho” to the pipeing notes of a bamboo rigadon bought by Mrs Buchanan for 20 pesetas in Palermo.’

Through another friend, Irene Hodgkins (‘that dreadful Hodgekins nothing but a monster goes to bed twice nightly with a hippopotamus’), Burra secured the commission – the hippo happened to be a publisher – to illustrate an ABC of the Theatre, issued in tarnished silver boards in 1932. Given space enough on every other page to parade chorus boys and contortionists, ruffians on stairs, goggle-eyed audiences, an advert for Burp Jelly, he upstaged the author, Humbert Wolfe. Part skit, part storyboard and part exercise in reconstituted late baroque, it was very typical Burra. ‘I’m serious about my work, but I don’t spread seriousness around its such a bore,’ he once said.

In John Deth (1932), partygoers arrayed in funny hats and masks indistinguishable from the faces they were born with, make hideous whoopee. It’s a dance of death, of course, a Chelsea Arts Ball gone crackers; it’s also, as Burra wrote on the back, a homage to Conrad Aiken, specifically to his poem ‘John Deth’:

Come Millicent, my spangled queen!
Come thump your shivering tambourine

Burra got to know Aiken, who had lived in Rye on and off since 1924, through Paul Nash. Aiken became Burra’s connection to America from 1933 when, having been to Spain and France (a bad time in Toulon with the Nashes), he landed in New York and declared it very much to his taste, what with the ‘non-stop twitchery day and night’ of Times Square, the jazz and dance routines of brownstone Harlem (‘Harlem is like Walham green gone crazy’) and the joys of breakfast at the Arabian Nights Luncheonette (‘the food is delish 40000000 tons of hot dogs and hamburgers must be consumed in NY daily’). Four years later he and the Aikens went to Mexico and stayed for a while with Malcolm Lowry and his wife in Cuernavaca, fifty miles from Mexico City. Rain, altitude, the warring couples, sleeplessness and black widow spiders were bad enough but when Josefina the maid cooked them a rabbit whole, fur and all, in tepid water, he bolted to Boston, racked with dysentery and memories of overbearing altarpieces. Mexico served, in retrospect, as a permanent set where fiendish eyes glowed in the dark and conquistadores in ballet tights put the frighteners on humble folk.

Burra’s artistic development was piecemeal. Bit by bit he spread himself, feeding experience into observation and gradually loosening up. Occasionally he chanced his arm. Once, when his spleen played up particularly badly and his mother sent him to London with money for an operation, he decided instead to have a Chinese mask and dagger tattooed on his left shoulder. The paintings sprawled more, beaked predators closing in on sacrificial figures. The outside world became ever more alarming. Hardly was the ‘dear old Span civil guerre’ over, as far as Burra was concerned, than Neville Chamberlain went and announced the next bout. (Not at 11.15 p.m., as the author claims, but 11.15 a.m.; elevenses time or Sunday matins, leaving the rest of the day clear for the anticipated air-raids.) Billy Chappell became Gunner Chappell and Burra showed willing by volunteering for canteen work (‘cups washed up in a thick velouté sauce’). His war was not uneventful. ‘Well dearie what a whirl of Messerschmidt this evening they love it a little cloudy,’ he told Chappell. Besides being flown over and threatened with being the front line following an invasion, Rye – now ‘Fort Dung’, he said – felt the lack of onions acutely.

Burra’s wartime paintings included what Stevenson describes as ‘a set of alarmingly diabolic pictures of impersonally hyperactive squaddies’. Tin-hatted and masked and tightly trousered, they were part Bellmer, part Uccello. Wyndham Lewis confessed to fraternal feelings for Burra and his troops. ‘When I see the purple bottoms of his military ruffians in athletic action against other stout though fiendish fellows, I recognise a brother.’

The war brought Burra to the boil, whether complaining about evacuees or eyeing the shortcomings of a nation besieged. His sets and costumes for Robert Helpmann’s ballet Miracle in the Gorbals of 1944 were generally agreed to be the only things worth remembering about it. He attended rehearsals at Sadler’s Wells: ‘2 sharp pokes with broken bottles in the face then followed a sort of descent de la croix copied from El Greco & a resurection and scotch jig.’ A Glasgow recce gave him material for several grim townscapes and these, together with a good look at the work of his fellow Lefevre Gallery artist L.S. Lowry, set him doing more in the way of widespread semi-rural views.

Rye Landscape with Figure is his vision of postwar Britain, winter of 1947, overcast, slushy, a prospect littered with sheds and carts and lorries with their wheels come off. A gamekeeper figure enters the picture, strolling in gumboots downhill into the dreary mess. Stevenson talks about his ‘highly individualised people’. These are hard to spot, I find. Mostly they are characters drawn from stock, pop-eyed or slitty-eyed and uniformly shifty.

Middle-aged and lacking stamina, Burra made attempts to diversify, producing violent flower pieces (peonies posed with an onion) and fantasies interpretable as stiff competition for Powell and Pressburger. In landscape he found renewal. He and Anne went on day trips to Boulogne and car journeys to the North and West. For him, being in the front passenger seat was as good as being at the cinema watching the countryside glide by in Cinemascope. Stevenson remarks that ‘there were three million more private cars on the roads at the end of the 1960s than there had been at the beginning.’ Even so the roads were fairly empty. From the M1 onwards, opportunities unfolded. Burra could observe and recall, without bothering to sketch; back home he set it all down bit by bit: roadside cafés, droning Triumph bikes, cat’s-eyes glinting in the tarmac. He did topography proud, the features magnified, Cornwall nibbled by the surrounding sea, woodland draped like Mae West boas over bold bare hills. As for what went on overhead, de la Mare’s ‘clouds like sheep/Stream o’er the steep/ Grey skies’ conveys it pretty well.

There was, inevitably, a fading of impulse. He could enjoy Poldark for the scenery and cleavages and he thoroughly enjoyed Hammer horror. ‘It was called the Light from beyond Space & the plants in the conservatory began to strangle people as nameless things were carefully preserved in the cellar.’ He could read Maigret and watch Rupert Davies in the title role on TV, tamping his pipe and scenting sexual misbehaviour. But the gossipy stimulus ebbed away.

‘I am between paintings so am in a dreadful way. I hate being between so will start anything no wonder they get odd sometimes.’ Oh for the ‘oo tray’, such as the Profumo affair (‘what a squawk dearie … La Belle Keeler’), yet that happy set of events was too remote for him to use, and when he did happen to encounter a ‘boorgwah’ celebrity there wasn’t anything he could actually do with it. ‘A surly pudding face that I suddenly realised was Mr Heath!’

‘Ive got no pity it realy is terrible sometimes Ime quite frightened at myself I think such awful things.’ Drink was a solace and cannabis made him laugh, but he felt trapped. Having moved from Springfield Lodge to Chapel House in Rye, the littleness of life got to him worse than ever. Although he said once that he liked the idea of living in a jar, Chapel House set him waspishly fizzing, its small garden ‘a lovesome spot consisting of coke logs & mud’.

London still had its attractions. At the Colony Room he was introduced to Francis Bacon but they didn’t hit it off. Beyond Soho gentrification threatened, not least in Islington. ‘It will be made terribly quainty dainty wee before you can say knife.’ As for Rye, by the 1970s it was a thriving tourist destination. ‘The centre is completely given over to gyfterie and other forms of perversion,’ he grumbled. ‘Pottery plaques with the name of the house on every sweet little place.’

After he died Tinkerbell towne felt free at last to clasp Burra to its pottery-plaqued bosom, but it wasn’t until 1989, 13 years later, that Burra in Rye was staged at the Rye Art Gallery. The opening was a pleasant occasion, elevenses time on a Saturday morning with the mayor and mayoress doing the honours. Mapp and Lucia and Quaint Irene were not there in person but they were well represented.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.