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. 278, No. 8810, 1997

A Detective of the Past
DORA BRUDER by Patrick Modiano Gallimard, FF95, pp. 147 Patrick Modiano, haunter of vanishing suburbs and old newspapers, writes novels which take place in a hallucinatory but sharply defined time situated somewhere between the end of the last war and...
All Things to All Men
KING ARTHUR IN LEGEND AND HISTORY by Richard White Dent, 25, pp. 512 In response to my complaint that children nowadays are brought up in an atmosphere of scientific materialism, my friend, a pedagogue in the north of England, inquired among the older...
Ancient & Modern
THE Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, has decreed that failing schools shall be named. `Naming and shaming', screamed the headlines the next day, as if 'shame' were somehow a wicked emotion to make people feel. On the contrary, it is,...
And If M. Jospin Fails?
THE NEWS in the background was never encouraging. A man in Versailles was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for having burned the national flag, the tricolor. A Paris lycee lost the examination scripts completed by its pupils sitting the baccalaureat....
A Surfeit of Swans
Swan Lake, like any other 19th-century ballet, is not an ideal work to stage in a space that is not a theatre, unless the traditional choreography is recreated accordingly. Many 20th-century ballet directors, however, intrigued by the work's spectacular...
Come and Gone: Jaspistos
IN COMPETITION NO. 1985 you were asked to imagine that Beckett added a last act to Waiting for Godot in which Godot arrives, converses with one or both of the two tramps, and leaves, and invited to supply the ensuing dialogue. There is only room for...
Comic Creativity
We tend in Britain to take comedy and satire for granted. After all, there is and has been so much of it, in literature going back to Chaucer, Dryden and Swift, through Shakespeare and the Restoration dramatists up to Oscar Wilde and beyond, and one...
Coming to, Smelling of Roses
THE END OF THE LINE by Richard Cobb John Murray, 20, pp. 229 My subject is chaotic,' wrote Richard Cobb in the introduction to one of his books on French history, `and I may well have written about it chaotically!' Well it was, and he did. But he might...
Daubers and Barbarians Rush in Where Hogarth Feared to Tread
When I first visited the Royal Academy in the 1940s it was the heyday of Sir Alf Munnings, the last president who was a painter of distinction, an outsize personality and a national figure. The Academy was a dark, dingy and quiet place in those days....
Dear Mary
Q. I live in a central London square and, since I am a member of the square's garden committee, I frequently come across stolen bags which have been chucked over the railings after the thieves have looted them. A couple of weeks ago, however, I was pleased...
Diary
An Australian periodical, G'day, is at present being sued for vast sums by my client, Dame Edna Everage, because it recently published the confessions of Dame Edna's estranged mother, the Hon. Gladys Beazley-Kydd. Dame Edna is seeking exemplary damages...
Ego-Trip to New Guinea
Daniel Start's wanderlust was the initial cause of the trouble. As a schoolboy, Daniel bicycled across the Downs searching for `mysterious and lonely antiquities'. Climbing past a `Keep Out' sign, he trespassed deep into woods, where, he relates, `the...
England's Willing Executioners?
THE Irish historical debate about the Great Famine of 1845-50 - in which one million Irish people died, despite the expenditure of millions of pounds of British aid - is a rather curious one. In particular, how should the role of the British government...
Euro-Train Subject to Delay
Interlaken THE BANKER enthuses. Europe, he says, is heading for monetary union like an express train. Then a thought strikes him: `Of course, when an express train comes off the rails . Suddenly, the train is lurching. Only last week Lord Jenkins was...
Fame Was the Spur
Few people under 50 will have heard of Nancy Spain; the journalist, broadcaster and novelist. On the other hand most people old enough to remember her dramatic death - in a civilian air crash near Aintree on Grand National Day 1964 - will have some idea...
Flower Power
On Friday morning I was on guard duty in the church for the NSPCC's Flower Festival. `You should take a book along,' the local jeweller had advised me at the preview the night before. That seemed like a good idea, although in the end I took along the...
Granny Takes a Trip
Teresa Waugh KISS AND KIN by Angela Lambert Bantam, L14.99, pp. 299 Harriet Capel, the heroine of Angela Lambert's new novel, Kiss and Kin, is a recently widowed grandmother in her midfifties who had spent the whole of her adult life married to a gentleman-farmer...
Herr Kohl Is in Trouble-Good News for Messrs Clarke, Blair and Brown
Chancellor Kohl has been compared to Alberich, the malevolent dwarf who steals the Rhinemaidens' gold at the beginning of the Ring cycle; for Rheingold, read Bundesbank gold. But this is unfair, morally and physically. Herr Kohl is much more like Fafner...
I Was an Embassy Hostage
DOES the bonhomous United States ambassador Admiral Crowe (pronounced like Slough) have, I wonder, any notion of the repository of broken dreams, the sheer hell-hole, that resides at the bottom of his elegant embassy in Grosvenor Square? (But then does...
Kind Hearts and Baguettes
I was quite staggered last week on my birthday by the amount of cards and the kindness shown by readers of this column. I even had one large vodka chez Norman which I believe was my fourth drink since last June when I had my near-death experience in...
Lamb Not for the Slaughter
Lamb not for the slaughter Jane Ridley LORD MELBOURNE by L. G. Mitchell OUP, L25, pp. 349 When William Lamb, the future prime minister Lord Melbourne, was a boy at Eton, he fought a boy who pummelled him amazingly. This won't do, thought young Lamb,...
Leave It with Me
Spectator readers are part of the process of natural selection and in their case species differentiation has produced a biological need to know about Top Cars. Those tested so far (cars, that is) have been the BMW 750il, the Bentley Turbo R and Toyota...
Letters
The Tory future Sir: Peter Lilley tries to separate the question of how he would oppose New Labour in Parliament from the question of how `to reunite, rebuild and renew the party' in the country ('I choose freedom', 31 May). But the Conservative party...
London's Gigantic Village Fete
Exhibitions Summer Exhibition (Royal Academy, till 17 August) These are heady days of reform. The House of Lords is to be shorn of its hereditary contingent, lounge suits have been worn at the Mansion House, there will be a parliament in Edinburgh, the...
Making Good Progress
Making good progress Thomas Blaikie SEAHORSES by Bidisha Flamingo, L9.99, pp. 210 Two years ago, when she was 16, Bidisha was a pupil of mine. I was under the impression that I was teaching her English, and indeed she was quite properly handing in essays...
Man of Fiction, Not Action
THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES, VOLUMES I-III by John Buchan, edited by Andrew Lownie Thistle Publishing, L20 each Like many people who early on in life were enthralled by The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle and (rather less so) Mr Standfast, I never afterwards...
No Waiting Place
New albums come and new albums go, often with bewildering speed. Say what you like about the pop industry, but it doesn't hang around. There's always a new act to talk up, another album to promote. This suits both pop's core audience, who, being teenage,...
One Smoke-Bomb, but No Snogging
Paris THE platter of squishy regional cheeses was just being unveiled by a team of chefs in starched white hats, and a decent claret decanted by the waiters, when the smokebomb - the disagreeable tribute of some National Front supporters -- landed at...
Pity and Terror
The revival of Katya Kabanova is one of the Royal Opera House's triumphs, perhaps even more so than at its first outing in 1994. Bernard Haitink is ideal in this work, finding the right degree of painful lyrical warmth for the heroine, as much as the...
Playing Patball
The Chair with Peter Mandelson (BBC 2) was a disgrace. Something has gone badly wrong with the BBC's quality control. It's like the Jaguar factory used to be: they still produce a world-class product, but too many lemons come off the production line....
Pop Goes the Nation
Jonathan Keates ENGLAND IS MINE by Michael Bracewell HarperCollins, 18, pp. 245 Englishness is up for grabs. Everyone nowadays wants to give you their version of it, not simply our lost leader, the Member for Huntingdon, with his recycling of Orwell's...
Portrait of the Week
Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, apologised to the Irish for the effects of the potato famine in the late 1840s; `Those who governed in London at the time', he said, `failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive...
Proms Challenge
First things first. The Proms prospectus recently published contains some revolutionary items. Not only are some of the concerts to be held outside the Albert Hall (which used, of course, to be a regular arrangement years ago) but eight of these events...
Restaurant: Lola's, Maison Novelli and Stephen Bull
I MUST confess to some satisfaction with my choice of subjects for this article about three of London's successful new restaurants. Just before I settled down to write it I went to lunch at Sir Terence Conran's new Bluebird restaurant in King's Road,...
Risks Worth Taking
No one seems to have said it, but the six runners for the Conservative leadership make up a comparatively good field. Of each of the six it is said, `He would be a risk.' But the only leader since the war who was not generally thought to be a risk, and...
Rough Winds to Shake
Mrs Dorothea May is a widow of 70 who lives in a ground-floor flat in a smart district of London. She has the use of a small garden and it is into this that she ventures early on summer mornings, wearing her dead husband Henry's dressinggown. Slightly...
Science into Art
THE FIRST MODERNS by William R. Everdell University of Chicago, L23.95, pp. 473 Paris, 29 May 1913, the opening night of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, three minutes into the performance, and the music is almost drowned out by catcalls, although a...
So Far, So Tory
FOR the first time since 1979 we have a Labour government, set to continue for the next five years. So, after a month in office, what are the prospects for business? Many of Labour's new attitudes and policies are healthy, so, rather than adversely criticising...
So Long as There Are More Sinners Than Saints, There's Hope for the Tories
Inclusion' is what New Labour is all about. I have this on the best authority, that of Lord (Ralf) Dahrendorf, distinguished sociologist, warden of St Anthony's College, Oxford. `New Labour isn't actually about social justice at all,' he writes in the...
Splits and Sleaze
ON my way to Kenneth Clarke's new office I could not help but feel worried. The cause? A report in one of the newspapers that Mr Clarke had made a series of concessions -- concessions to spin-doctoring, that is. In a video launched to appeal to wavering...
Sue Ellen to the Rescue
Last year the Derby clashed with the European Cup. This year, those seeking to restore the premier Classic to its former glory have been faced by the handicap of an odds-on favourite, with nobody giving anything else in the race much chance of beating...
The Alien Half-Century
FIFTY years ago - in June 1947 - an American businessman named Kenneth Arnold was flying his private aircraft near Mount Rainier in Washington state when he saw a group of strange objects flying in the sky. He said that they `skipped like saucers across...
The Cars Have It
Like a Number 73 bus, Crash has finally turned up. In Canada, it played unobtrusively at art-houses for months; in America, where it was released a couple of months back, it quietly dribbled away. But only in Britain has it driven media, censors and...
The Fragments That Remain
Edward Gibbon famously had the idea of writing his Decline and Fall in Rome `while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter'. Harry Ritchie's good idea struck less exotically when his eye was caught by a list of the last pink...
The Greenhouse Effect
CONSERVATORY AND INDOOR PLANTS, VOLUME I by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix Macmillan, 19.99, pp. 286 The British Isles are famous for their gardens. They are made possible by a mild, maritime climate which enables us to grow an extraordinary range of...
The Last Time I Saw Parris
I COULDN'T POSSIBLY COMMENT by Matthew Parris Robson, L14.95, pp. 264 Trying to read this anthology of Matthew Parris's sketches is like trying to make a meal of a four-pound box of afterdinner mints. However good one or even two might be, a bookful...
The Pick of Broadway
Lieber and Stoller's anthem to the Great White Way, currently to be heard at the Prince of Wales in Smokey Joe's Cafe, has seldom in 30 years been more justifiable. Though the patriotic news this week is of the four Tony Awards given on Sunday to the...
The Shepherd Losing His Sheep
Berlin THE atmosphere in Bonn grows more hysterical by the day. More than a regime, a whole system of government is collapsing, and those at the heart of events have as little notion of what is going on as soldiers staggering across a smoke-covered battlefield....
Tory Press Gets Tory Leadership Election Wrong (in 1975)
It is generally agreed that the Tory leadership election doesn't present the party with much of a choice. Once Kenneth Clarke has been excluded for all the obvious reasons, objections against the other candidates pile up. That does not prevent them putting...
Turning a Blind Eye
Last week Greek terrorists murdered yet another Greek businessman, Costis Peratikos, father of three. A poll taken immediately after the foul killing revealed that not a small number of Greeks sympathised with the assassins. Need I say more about my...
Winning Is All
STEVEN Redgrave was back to doing what he does best last weekend: winning. As an athlete, he has grown beyond mere excellence. Being good at your sport, even being the best in the world, only gets you so far, after all. Most of us have walked up a hill...
With an Eye for Beauty
Terence Donovan was a perfectionist. He believed that it was single mindedness that led to his success as a photographer. `You don't do something like this for money,' he said, and then added, I've never met anyone who's succeeded in life purely because...
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