The Spectator

A weekly, UK-based magazine covering current political, economic, and cultural issues. Articles include interviews, commentary, opinion pieces, essays, and cultural criticism.

Articles from Vol. 282, No. 8901, 1999

A Budget for Headlines and Accountants
Above all, it was a Budget for headlines. Despite all the talk of allowances and lower rates, no one will be much better off or much worse off. The same is true of the economy as a whole. As long as Mr Brown's forecasts for revenue and spending are not...
A Case of Compassion Fatigue
BLACK '47 AND BEYOND: THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE IN HISTORY, ECONOMY AND MEMORY by Cormac O Grada Princeton, 21.50, pp. 296 Cormac O Grada is, and has been for many years, Ireland's leading economic historian. In recent years he has published extensively...
A Lot of Baby Talk
LAST year Nature magazine exposed Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third president of the United States, as having had an affair with his slave Sally Hemings and having fathered at least one child by her. This received a great deal of press attention, coming...
An Account of the Mind
OUR FATHERS by Andrew O'Hagan Faber, L16.99, pp. 282 It is always interesting, and inevitably seems significant, when a writer's first book is a non-fiction account of the problems in the place where he grew up (which, roughly speaking, is what Andrew...
Ancient & Modern
SIR William Macpherson's at times hysterical report on racism apparently threatens to unleash a further terrifying volley of reports on ageism, sexism, and so on. Socrates would have been appalled. For Socrates, abstract 'goods' such as justice, piety,...
An Up-and-Coming Place Still Searching for Its Soul
The part of London where we live has become smart. It is talked and written about, and the upwardly mobile long to live here. House prices soar. But what is it? For some it is Notting Hill, others Paddington. I call it Bayswater. It stretches on the...
A Passion for the Particular
Maybe it is the immensity of Canada, the necessity of focus, that makes Canadian short-story writers so good. Like Dorothy Wordsworth beneath her looming crags they have 'a passion for the particular'. Munro is the best of them all. But `short story'...
Auto-Da-Ferrari
THERE are some names in sport that always get the sentimentalist going. In Formula One motor racing, the name that softens hearts and brains is Ferrari. Every time the Ferrari team wins a grand prix, it is heraided as `good for the sport'. I've never...
Behind the Lines
DEATH OF A HERO by John Parker Metro, 1.99, pp. 272 The questions that have remained unanswered since the night of 14 May 1977, when Captain Robert Nairac was abducted, savagely beaten and murdered by an IRA gunman, are why was he in The Three Steps...
Biting the Bullet
PUSHKIN'S BUTTON by Serena Vitale Fourth Estate, 16.99, pp. 398 Pushkin is the most graceful and economic of writers, and has been unlucky in his commentators, who cluster around the short Collected Works like ugly old relatives at a deathbed, whining...
Brown Runs Up a Debt of Gratitude
MR BROWN's third Budget was a great disappointment to the Conservatives. As the Chancellor played his hand of fiscal goodies, they must have realised that New Labour had all the economic trumps for the next general election. Even worse, the Conservatives...
Dear Mary
Q. For years my partner and I lived in a lovely house in a waterside suburb of Sydney owned by a well-off local family. The rent was well below market rates, and no lease or bond was expected -- solid tenants introduced by a reliable source were enough....
Diary
I have just been through one of the most extraordinary and emotionally draining weeks of my professional life. Having presented News At Ten in its single-anchor format for seven years, I have been, in the company of a host of colleagues past and present,...
Dirty Tricks for Neville
A CONTROVERSIAL leader at the helm, a determined minority of distinguished opponents on the backbenches, and Europe threatening to split the Tory party asunder. Sixty years ago this month, on 15 March 1939, Hitler's troops marched unopposed into Prague...
Flying Colours
While visiting the Venice Biennale in 1948, the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi - who spent most of his life refining austerely beautiful arrangements of bottles and jugs - encountered his first Jackson Pollock. He had been a little doubtful about the...
Food Where the Praties Grow
THE 8 and 9 March gave us two saints who were great at begging money from rich ladies for the poor, the cripples, the paralytics, the deaf and the dumb, the diseased and all manner of unfortunates. The first, John of God, spent a wayward life until he...
French without Fears
ALONE among the Club's suppliers, Robin Yapp has succeeded in reducing the price of his mixed case - from 66 or 5.50 the bottle in March 1998 to 65.20 or L5.43 today. In fact he has made huge reductions, which would mean nothing if the wine this time...
Give Her Space
Women who were raised in the countryside, but have spent their adult lives in the cities, are as varied in type as you could imagine. They dress in different ways, work at different jobs, have different friends. However, like salmon, they all feel a...
Great Leap Forward
A while ago, after performing in the then new Birmingham Symphony Hall, I dilated in this column on the wonders of properly designed and acoustically sophisticated modern concert halls. One person who enjoyed reading this was the acoustical engineer...
Heart of Darkness
VISITING RWANDA by Dervla Murphy Lilliput Press, L15.99, pp. 246 WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES by Philip Gourevitch Picador, L16.99, pp. 356 The Tutsi of Rwanda have been called `the Jews of East Africa', a characterisation...
How to Find Braver Rulers
LIKE IT or not, for better or worse, class is part of Britain's understanding of itself and short of violent revolution -- which not even foul-mouthed Alastair Campbell favours - is likely to remain so. However doctrinally unacceptable it may be to the...
I'm in Heaven
If self-restraint is a virtue, then heaven may be possible after all. I've written only twice about Bristols, in The Spectator of 13 January 1996 and again in an article about the Palawan Press, publisher of rare and expensive books about rare and expensive...
I Miss Those Bongs
News at Ten faded out with a reprise of its best-loved stories. One half expected Zoe Ball to turn up and ask us to nominate our favourite. `Berlin Wall? Victory in the Falklands? Calls cost just 50 pence a minute, and that means more for News Relief....
Letters
Keep to the right Sir: Richard Kelly's article, (`Why Mr Hague has lost me', 6 March), brings to mind the comment made about Labour's 1983 manifesto that it was the `longest suicide note in history' Can Mr Kelly really be in any way sympathetic to the...
Losing out on Shakespeare
To be or not to be a permanent company? Just as we lose the Peter Hall company at the Piccadilly, just as Trevor Nunn launches, on all three stages of his National Theatre, the first residential season to play on the South Bank for almost 20 years (with...
Macpherson Left Out
JACK Straw is not like the Prime Minister. With Mr Blair it is impossible to know what his real thoughts and feelings are. He is inscrutable. This leads many people to conclude - probably erroneously but to his detriment nevertheless - that he lacks...
Mind Your Language
I HAD just finished reading The Nigger of the 'Narcissus', that strange sea yarn by Conrad, when what should I come across in the post but a nautical usage of nig, in connection with the origins of niggard (Mind your language, 13 February). 'Nig-nag-nig...
Not Seduced by the Don
The Return of Don Juan (Arc Dance Company, Sadler's Wells) On paper, the plot devised by Kim Brandstrup for The Return of Don Juan looks like an ideal subject for a narrative work and a welcome change from the often untenable plots favoured by most contemporary...
Persuasion, Influence and Bias
BRITISH THINK-TANKS AND THE CLIMATE OF OPINION by Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett UCL Press, L41, L13.95, pp. 222 THINK-TANKS ACROSS NATIONS: A COMPARATIVE APPROACH edited by Diane Stone, Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett Manchester University Press, L45,...
Playing for Time
This year is the 75th anniversary of BBC radio drama. The first play on radio was Twelfth Night in May 1923, and the first specially written for the medium was Danger, by Richard Hughes and broadcast the following year. Three quarters of a century of...
Portrait of the Week
In the Budget, Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced a tax band of 10p in the pound for the first 1,500 of taxable income. That comes in next month, but a reduction of standard tax rate (for incomes up to 28,000) from 23 per cent...
Professional Maverick
What did the picture editor of Look see in the Bronx teenager's photograph? A weeping city news vendor surrounded by front pages announcing the death of President Roosevelt - and the small, tenderly caught moment that humanises great events. It got its...
Recent Books on Tape
It is very unfair, but the pure, unabridged readers of their own works do not always make the best tapes. The voice itself can be so deadly dull that one might have preferred an actor. The new Hideous Kinky (CSA TellTapes, 8.99, three hours, abridged)...
Role Models
The Greeks had Hera, Queen of Heaven, the thinking man's trumpet. The Egyptians worshipped all those female deities with animal ears. The British made do with Boudicca, thought the efficacy of blue mud as an early beauty treatment was debatable. No race,...
Second Opinion
TO EXPRESS a liking, let alone an admiration, for the writings of Somerset Maugham is to lose caste in intellectual circles. I remember once visiting the home of an eminent retired professor who told me that at the time of my arrival he had been doing...
Soho House
WE are sitting in the back of a limousine discussing fiddleheads. This is the first restaurant review I have been driven to by a chauffeur. It is also the first with a business tycoon and the first with a Canadian. Any North American probably knows all...
That Woman
Rougemont Andrew Morton tells us that Monica Lewinsky is the most humiliated woman ever. `It is a parable of our time; how modern states strip a person bare of all dignity or humanity.' Gee whiz, and I thought it was all about a blubbery bimbo going...
The Clapham Junction of Art History
There are brunch joints in New York in which Vivaldi's Four Seasons are played so loudly and so incessantly that a part-time New Yorker I know, a painter, is being made to hate a once favourite composer. Another friend has gone so far as to call Impressionism...
The Institutional Hysteria Dies Down
FOR a long time the mainstream media ignored Stephen Lawrence. Not so the black press, where papers such as the Voice were running stories within days of his murder in April 1993. It took the Daily Mail's famous front page to shake Fleet Street out of...
The Man Who Turned the Tide
LAST November the Home Secretary Jack Straw published the results of the latest British crime survey. The results were extraordinary. They showed that, for the fifth consecutive year, crime rates had fallen in the sharpest and most protracted drop since...
The Scarlet Figure of History
Julia Blackburn PILATE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF AN INVENTED MAN by Ann Wroe Cape, L17.99, pp. 381 Ann Wroe's previous book, A Fool and His Money, told the story of how two men found a pot of gold coins while they were unblocking a drain in a house in southern...
The Spectator: Not on Our Nellie
Each age gets the courtesans it deserves. It gets the male power adulterers it deserves too. Ours seems to be a time in which the courtesans are more pretentious and the power adulterers coarser. When the London mob mistook Nell Gwyn for another of Charles...
Two Titans Grappling
THE CHOCOLATE WARS: INSIDE THE SECRET WORLDS OF MARS AND HERSHEY by Joel G. Brenner HarperCollins, 19.99, pp. 366 The word 'chocolate' derives from the Aztecs, who considered the god-given seeds of the cacao tree to be as valuable as gold and silver;...
Warmth in the Cold
With snow flecking the nearby mountains and an icy wind blowing Kelso racecourse wasn't for fainthearts on Hennessy Day last Friday. Certainly not in the roofless gents. But it is the warmth of the welcome which counts. And the Kelso team manage to make...
Winning Way
Writing to his publisher is 1890, Tchaikovsky said that 'I believe unreservedly in Cherevichki's [The Tsarina's Shoes] future as a repertory piece, and I consider it well-nigh my best opera' - this after he had written what most people now would certainly...
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