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. 277, No. 8787, 1996

A Choice of Recent Thrillers
Elizabeth Ironside's The Accomplice (Hodder & Stoughton, 16.99) is her third novel. Her first, A Very Private Enterprise, showed real promise; her second, Death in the Garden, was particularly enjoyable, and with her third she joins those few mystery...
A Dandy at Waterloo
It seems he may not have said at Waterloo, `By God, sir, I've lost my leg.' So the Duke of Wellington, lowering his telescope for a moment, may also not have said, `By God, sir, so you have.' Ah well, it was ever thus. But what emerges from his greatgreat-grandson's...
All Bark and No Bite
A year or two back, previewing Disney's re-release of the original 101 Dalmatians, I described it in these pages as a searing drama about a group of refugees from the former Yugoslavia attempting to flee the war-torn Croatian coast. A lady stopped me...
All Change
I've heard of fin de siecle, but this is getting ridiculous: never can I remember a time of so much change around the West End, whether managerial or architectural. Among those playhouses undergoing what the former American Ambassador used to describe...
A Recipe for Restaurateurs in 1997
AT THE END of my first year as The Spectator's restaurant critic it is heartening to report that cooking in Britain, not just in London, has massively improved in the past decade or so. We are no longer outclassed by the cooks of France and the rest...
A Rich Mine of Mistakes
THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF POLITICAL QUOTATIONS edited by Antony Jay OUP, L15.99, pp. 515 Though Sir Antony contributes an introduction to this book, in which he dilates on the nature of political quotation and spells Iain Macleod 'McLeod', my impression...
A Short Conversation
LOVE WOULD have been something else. Something more. More lovely or maybe more ugly. More convincing, anyway. Definitely more convincing. Given time, even a very good lie will thin down to nothing any kind of sane person would ever take seriously. The...
A Week Full of Joys
TO pursue the trade of sports hack requires a gradual acquisition of perspective, along with a retention of the capacity to be amazed. It is a balancing act: you must be like a female gymnast and perform your pirouettes on a four-inch-wide beam, forever...
Axes and Teeth Being Ground
At last! At last! For six months now the literary world has tremulously awaited Amanda Craig's third novel, a `satire of literary London' supposedly so savage that even before publication libel writs were flying and publishers bolting. The newspapers...
Bear and Child, Soviet-Style
Few really good novels get written about 'important' subjects. Why should they? `The free novel', as Pushkin called it, can be and do what it likes, and if its writer is good enough a masterpiece may result: a War and Peace or a Pride and Prejudice,...
Capa the Great
JOSE RAOUL Capablanca was world champion from 1921 to 1927, and was widely regarded as the most perfect genius of chess, a natural player, whose style on the chessboard mirrored that of Mozart in music. No other player has been quite so difficult to...
Children's Books for Christmas
The writers of picture books for children always have the problem of keeping a balance between the text and the illustrations. It is curious that almost every illustrator seems to feel that to knock off a few lines of narrative is something that anyone,...
Christmas Art Books
In the year of the Macmillan Dictionary of Art (5,700 come the New Year), it might seem hard to get excited about anything else, but actually there is a bumper crop of outstanding art books to recommend to despairing present-hunters. Taschen deserve...
Cliche Corner
In the Forties, every suburban semi was supposed to have a flight of three pottery ducks on its sitting-room wall. It became a cartoonist's cliche. The Fifties cliche was furniture with tiny splayed legs ending in little balls (they would have pierced...
Colour Conundrum
Walking into the lower rooms of the Hayward Gallery just now is an exhilarating experience. All around are pictures pulsing with vitality, full of light and space, indeed, it is a long while since so many exuberantly, extravagantly beautiful images have...
Creatures of a Brave New World
This surprising and beautiful book presents the facsimile of a 16th-century French manuscript illustrating the natural history and native life of the West Indies at the time of Francis Drake's voyages among those islands. It is possibly the work of a...
Crime Corner
The first car I had stolen was my beloved Mark II Jaguar, left on a south London street for one night. The police said it would have been across the Channel by morning. Probably that was a way of saying they had no hope of finding it, nor intention of...
Dear Mary
Mary Killen has invited some of her favourite celebrities to submit some queries. From Dame Diana Rigg, London Q. I get invited to all sorts of occasions, not necessarily connected with the arts, most of which I thoroughly enjoy as I get the chance to...
Dear Michael
My postbag for the year has made me feel like Feedback on Radio Four. Some of the letters I have received about radio programmes are full of accurate insights into various shortcomings; others are delightfully eccentric. It was interesting to hear from...
Diary
Please hold the line while we try to connect you. The number you are calling knows you are waiting.' This bright lady's voice often assails me through the telephone. Who is she? She sounds very like the girl who used to present Blue Peter, yet is she...
Different Races, Same Glory
AS it is Christmas, I have decided not to write about the press. This is a tale about Britain, India and the Empire. For the past ten years or so my father-in-law, Peter Montague, has asked me to the annual luncheon of the 2nd Indian Field Regiment in...
Disturbers of the Peace
In this space a year ago, under the heading `The secret peace', we argued that the world had never been so peaceful, but that for fear of sounding 'complacent' and for fear that some unforeseen great war might happen the world's eminences dared not admit...
Don't Start with 'Thank You'
IT IS SAD that letter-writing is a dying art and future history is on computer instead. There are no longer ribboned bundles to keep and rummage through, eyes misting with melancholy or mirth. There is one kind of letter which survives, however, and...
For Mine Eyes Have Seen the Salvation
AS an undergraduate at Cambridge, I first found myself at home in Little St Mary's, whose churchmanship the Varsity Handbook properly referred to as 'overdrive'. There the main service of the day was at the student-friendly time of 11 o'clock. It ended,...
Go Mitigate
When an American Senator's re-election campaign foundered hopelessly and he was cast into the electoral wilderness, he called his campaign team together the next morning and declared, `Gentlemen: we all know there's no such thing as an unmitigated disaster....
If You Really Want to Punish the Tories, Here Is the Way to Do It
As the years of Conservative government roll by, a private urge grips me with growing intensity. I want to punch the Tory Party in the face. The old year dies and opportunity approaches: soon we shall have the chance to give the Tories a horrid shock....
Instead of Kowtowing to Brussels, Why Not Remember the Little Yellow God?
The quest for a common European currency has split the Tory Party and is tearing France apart. There will be a great deal more trouble before the problem is resolved. So why try to resolve it? True, one can sympathise with British businessmen who want...
Labour's Double Act
To put it in seasonal terms, if they were in pantomime together, they might be the Broker's men in Cinderella or the good and bad robbers in Babes in the Wood. Actually, I would prefer them as Widow Twanky and Wishy Washy in Aladdin. The good widow is...
Letters
Welcome the outsider Sir: William Oddie (`My time at homoerotic college', 7 December) recalls his unhappy time at theological college. He should consider how upsetting, even traumatic, countless homosexual boys and young men have found life when they...
Losing Patience with the Poor
THE AMUSEMENT OF THE PEOPLE AND OTHER PAPERS: DICKENS' JOURNALISM, VOLUME II, 1834-51 edited by Michael Slater Dent, L25, pp. 408 This collection of Dickens' journalism covers his life from the age of 22 to nearly 40. During these years Queen Victoria...
Mind Your Language
I DO not want to trespass on Dr Dalrymple's patch (indeed I'd run a mile to avoid it), but I've just come across a new book of prison slang which shows how dreadful prison is at any time more especially at Christmas, which partakes of the spirit of the...
Miscast for the Lead
Less than a third of the way into this fine book's long but well-documented slog the author (whose first venture into political biography was a life of Austen Chamberlain, the man Winston Churchill had at all times regarded as in every way Eden's superior...
Miserable Christmas
I wonder what Christmas cards tell' you about the sender. Nearly all my friends in racing predictably enough send cards printed by the Injured Jockeys Fund which are boring prints of usually a famous horse like Desert Orchid and also predictable since...
Mr Clarke Has Always Been Reckless; the PM Has Failed to Prevent Him from Becoming a Wrecker
The most absurd comment in the recent European degringolade was made at Prime Minister's Questions on Tuesday, by Mr Major. He said that he wanted 'a rational debate on the issue of Europe'. There would be far more chance of such an event taking place...
No Room at Brown's
IN COMPETITION NO. 1962 you were invited to write a poem, in the style of either Kipling or one of his contemporaries, deploring the Scrooge-like behaviour of the new owners of Brown's Hotel in denying the Kipling Society the traditional free use of...
Novel Designs
When Mr Darcy dived into the lake at Pemberley, in the BBC series Pride and Prejudice last year, the nation (or that half of it which is female at least) gasped. But was it the sight of Colin Firth's chest or was it disbelief that there could be an ornamental...
Novelty Value
Never can Placido Domingo have made a more ignominious entrance than in the performance of Die Walkure mounted by the Royal Opera House to celebrate his 25 years working there. True to Richard Jones's conception, he was conjured up during the Prelude...
Outrageous Steps
London theatre is a parochial affair, which periodically gets a much-needed shove. This may come via a new art form - the Lloyd Webber musical, or Eighties stand-up comedy - which brings in a brand-new audience. Or it may come via a show so liberatingly...
Peace in the Offing
At long last it looks as though the unseemly struggle between the RFU and the EPRUC (in theory only, Gentlemen v. Players) is mercifully drawing to a close. As the dust settles it can be seen that top clubs will receive around 40 million over the next...
Phony Peace on Earth
IT FELT much more like the first Christmas of war than the last of peace. It was only eight weeks since Munich, and whatever else might be said about that meeting and the drama of the days which preceded it, there was no question that we had escaped...
Portrait of the Week
Mr John Major, the Prime Minister, insisted that he would not decide a policy on Britain joining a single European currency until after the election. In the meantime the Conservative Party lost its theoretical majority in the Commons when Sir John Gorst...
Shop Horror, Tree Trauma
Australians rub papaya fat on sunburnt skin. In other parts of the world papaya flesh is prized for its contraceptive qualities. Here, papaya enzymes are used to dehydrate prolapsed discs. I wish I could tell you that I only eat the wretched things -...
Singing in Jubilation
There was `no room in the inn', you will recall. But then 'accommodating' the infinite within the finite dimensions of a restricted universe has always presented problems and not least for communicators. Little wonder, therefore, that when the vocabulary...
Soap-Opera Culture
During the second half of the 18th century, ballet masters and dance theorists such as Franz Hilverding, Gasparo Angiolini and Jean Georges Noverre reacted against the empty formalism of contemporary dance and created a choreographic genre which focused...
Sorry, Phil
Under the Christmas tree lurks a package with your name on it. It is, you estimate, five and a half inches long, five inches wide and about a third of an inch thick. It rattles when shaken. It is unequivocally a compact disc. But is it a compact disc...
Spice Girls Back Sceptics on Europe
INTERVIEW the Spice Girls, I thought. But the Spice Girls are interviewed all the time. My interview, however, would be different. I would ask only questions that I would ask Mr Major, Mr Blair, Mr Heseltine or any other politician. Only one thing worried...
Stop the German-Bashing
This Christmas issue would have been my 20th `High life' column in a row but for a spot of bother I ran into at Heathrow 12 years ago. The damn spot meant that Christmas 1984 was spent in Pentonville, North London - not half as bad as celebrating the...
Swallowing the Pills with the Jam
Charlotte M. Yonge, the Victorian novelist prolific even by the standards of her age, has not been well treated by posterity. None of her novels is now in print, a circumstance inexplicable to all those who know and love her work. In her best books,...
Telegrams and Tranquillity
The distinctive genius of l9th-century Russian prose-writers was recognised by English critics like Shaw, E. M. Forster and Katherine Mansfield at about the same time as it was in France by Proust and others, and a steady stream of translations began...
That Daft Office Memo Can Win You Champagne-Let's Hear It for Bowls, Planted, Personal
It is two thousand years since Caesar Augustus sent out the first memo, on universal taxation: memorandum est ut universus orbis profiteretur. Nowadays memos are wordier. Stylistic conventions have grown up around them. A tax-collector like St Matthew...
The Classic Way to Have a Baby
GREEKS and Romans placed enormous importance on having children. But they knew, far better than we do, that neither conception nor childbirth was guaranteed. As a result, ancient doctors and philosophers had any amount of advice to offer on the subject....
The Hunting of the Quark
If you did well at school, you got into the scholarship year, and then they told you secrets, things kept dark from the lesser boys (the thick or lazy ones who now have big houses, trophy wives, porno yachts and cars with genuine upholstery). The Head...
The Virgins of Bruges
ON THE MORNING of Christmas Eve my sister's husband died. I live in Paris. She lives in Herne Bay. She telephoned me at once, and at once I said that I would come. 'Of course you can't come.' 'I shall start now.' 'It's Christmas. You'll not get a seat...
The Year in Books
The experience of looking back over a year in books is rather an embarrassing one for the average book reviewer. The titles of books long since despatched to the nearest secondhand bookshop conjure up only the faintest memory; books which are remembered...
Three Men on a Sofa
The Oldie's 'I Once Met' is a game of Consequences full of unexpected twists and turns. If only the famous had known they were being met by someone who was going to describe the encounter years later they would surely have behaved differently. One exception,...
Two Fat Gentlemen
MIDWINTER is the bleakest season for the political eater. It presages the fat point of the turning world; that dread moment, after the festivities are over, when the spread stomach repels while the weighing scales revolt. No further procrastination is...
Wish I Weren't Here
It was a toss-up this week between doing cartoons and travel. The former seemed a quite sexy, topical idea because the ineffably wondrous The Simpsons (BBC 1, Saturday) has just moved on to terrestrial television; there's a new animated series that everyone's...
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