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. 8779, 1996

A Far Cry from Savile Row
Tailoring is a subject close to my heart. I love its terminology and old-fashioned practitioners, its bolts of cloth and subtle snobberies. My first bespoke suitings came from Billings & Edmonds, school outfitters. Later, I moved to Donaldson &...
A Hermit with a Handful
Appealingly named The Witch of Exmoor, Margaret Drabble's new novel is not about a witch at all. Frieda Haxby Palmer is a distinguished thinker and writer -- Britain's answer to Simone de Beauvoir - who at the end of her days has decided to retire from...
An Acolyte Writes
I hope you don't mind,' said my friend Liz, who's in charge of this column, `but we were rather hoping you might do Two Fat Ladies this week. Simon can't get hold of the videos because he's up at the conferences. And, well, Jennifer's a good friend of...
Ancient & Modern
THE POLITICAL parties have been wondering out loud whether to hold a referendum about Europe in order to keep Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party at bay. It would represent a small triumph for democracy in our relentlessly oligarchic system if it...
A New Man in My Life
The Victorians are supposed to have taken up washing with enthusiasm. So it's surprising they didn't put more bathrooms in the houses that they inherited from their grubbier ancestors. It's still not uncommon to come across a country house with 12 bedrooms...
Another False Down
CAFE EUROPA: LIFE AFTER COMMUNISM by Slavenka Drakulic Abacus, 6.99, pp. 213 In How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, a collection of essays published a decade ago, Slavenka Drakulic had a marvellous title which unfortunately she failed to live...
A Painter Partial to Pigs
SOWA'S ARK: AN ENCHANTED BESTIARY by Michael Sowa Thames & Hudson, L12.95, pp. 71 Michael Sowa, a German painter of superlative technical skill and a wonderfully pixilated imagination, is that rarity, a popular surrealist. Sowa's art, well represented...
A Question of Timing
They're in the shops now. The brand new greatest hits packages, the best-singles-of-the-year CDs, the live Oasis videos, the not-very-good new REM albums. The run-up to Christmas is upon us, and the tills are jangling. Few of us will reach the new year...
Armchair Racing
Three weeks around the party conference circuit, listening to fine speeches from Robin Cook and Ken Clarke and a great deal more which were the oratorical equivalent of painting by numbers, left me with some sympathy for party leaders. The top trainers...
A Spy Sings the Blues
It surprised no one very much when they put Leamas on the shelf ... For a week or two after his departure, a few people wondered what had become of him. But his former friends had already learned to keep clear of him . . . Leamas' departure caused only...
A Triumphant Victory
ON THIS cold and damp island of the north, we might describe a particularly good smile as `like the sun coming out'. But that doesn't really do justice to Damon Hill's smile last weekend. I was reminded more of the unbelieving joy and relief that greet...
Bugatti Beauties
I drove a Bugatti the other day. Actually, I didn't but I came closer to it than I've ever been and this is probably my one and only chance to use that sentence. What I drove was a replica Bugatti made by Teal's of Manchester, but - to my untutored eye,...
Bunker Mentality
Tin Cup (15, selected cinemas) Halfway through Tin Cup, one of the PGA golfers mentions that he once took part in some `pro-am shit for some asshole movie star' - and suddenly you're struck by the strange lack of golf pictures (excepting, of course,...
Can't Avoid Them
Even Colditz had its escape route but while the radio is on we remain prisoners of freedom, unable to tunnel ourselves out. I do not just refer to the massive coverage given to the party conferences which have now mercifully ceased, but to the prevalence...
Cultural Exchange
Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century (Tate Gallery, till 5 January) For anyone interested in art and architecture, Italy is, of course, the most attractive place in the world - not just by a little, but by far. In the 18th century,...
Dead End in Hillingdon
At first sight, Hillingdon NHS Hospital Trust's refusal of emergency in-patient treatment to over-75s from outside its catchment area, on the grounds that once ensconced in emergency beds they outstay their medical need, may appear harsh. But at second...
Dear Mary
Q. In Zimbabwe we have a problem with insecticide-resistant fleas which some people have difficulty in controlling on their pets. Often these pets go into rooms which visitors use and the fleas hop off and lie in wait for the next occupants, sometimes...
Diary
As a cause celebre, the struggle between Mr Neil Hamilton and Mr Mohamed Al Fayed has something rare about it. It now entirely hinges on whether something did or did not happen. Causes celebres normally hinge on the meaning of the facts, not on the facts...
Down-Under Tucker
'I SHALL entice them to eat me speedily.' The writer of these words was St Ignatius of Antioch who had been condemned to death for his faith and was about to be thrown into the arena with the wild beasts. 'I pray they will be prompt with me,' he continued...
Driven by a Tortured Imagination
I was unable to go to Leslie Hurry's memorial service at St Paul's, Covent Garden. My wife, a fellow designer, described to me the scattered, desultory gathering which in fact told all. In a way the event should never have been held, for by that date...
Fair and Interesting
A most untypical Longford offer with only one wine from the Burgundy region and nothing from the Rhone, but many of the wines are spectacularly cheap by the standard of what is being asked for the same bottles elsewhere. The sample case, working out...
Fayed Paid Me Nothing
'WELL DONE, thou good and faithful servant.' So Stewart Steven's fawningly pro-Fayed editorials in the Evening Standard on 4 January and 10 November 1995 (perhaps there were others) have finally paid off. In that fine Salvationist phrase, he's been promoted...
Georgian Rivals
' Public buildings are the most splendid monuments of a great and opulent people,' wrote Robert Adam in 1764. It was Adam's extreme misfortune to be born five years after another architect who was his natural rival, whose luck in winning placement and...
Grand Old Man of Taste
To say that Sir Brinsley Ford is a relic of the Grand Tour could be construed as impertinent. Relics are not fashionable in this age of progress, although tourism certainly is. But those friends of his who shield Sir Brinsley from the publicity that...
Heroic Subjects
To the Garrick for the funniest and most informative lunch I've had since I missed Michael Heseltine's bar mitzvah. Alistair Home, my host, is our most eminent historian, and we are joined by Colonel Simon Mayall, a brave, young and extremely articulate...
It's Got to Go
Alter the lows of Die Walkure, with some weak casting and a ubiquitously trying production, Siegfried was positively exhilarating. Not only, most unusually, was it the most enjoyable of the four evenings in this production, but it was also the most consistently...
I Would like to Say Something on Behalf of a Man Who Has Been Left to Sink
It can happen to a columnist that he wants to write something, then, discretion being the better part of valour, reconsiders. `Maybe I'm wrong? Or maybe the whole tenor of the times is against me. People will think me a dupe.' So he scraps the idea....
Just Say No
I don't absolutely believe this myself, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that all book reviewing - some would say all reviewing full stop - is essentially an ephemeral exercise. Certainly it follows fashions like so much else, and nothing better...
Letters
The trouble with Tootsie Sir: The point of interest is whether we should feel sorry for Mr Fayed, as your Fayed article (`The case for Mohamed', 12 October) invites us to do. Is Mr Fayed the solution to corruption, or is he part of the problem? Mr Steven,...
Living and Partly Living
BAD LAND by Jonathan Raban Picador, 115.99, pp. 326 From a mosaic of diaries, photos, personal conversations and research, Jonathan Raban has resurrected in Bad Land the ordeal of the last wave of migrants to Montana in the early 20th century. To European...
Looking Back in Good Humour
Ned Sherrin's entertaining comedythriller takes us back to 1953: to a London dulled by wartime austerity but with still a hint of a pre-war theatrical glamour, to a time when the King's Road was a village, when avocados were a curious novelty, when 'a...
Looking on the Bright Side
Alas, if we are to understand the ideals which still infuse the American mind, we must face reading the outpourings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, dismissed by Herman Melville as `oracular gibberish'. When he died in 1882, he was the best known American of...
Make Me Good but Not Yeti
There is a healthy fashion at the moment for informative novels. It is the shared propensity of such bestselling writers as John Grisham, Michael Crichton and Patricia Cornwell to give the reader hardresearched facts as well as a good story. For a generation...
Mind Your Language
THAT silly bishop who ran off with a woman who admits to being 41 and has a 24-year-old son told a press conference, which he held in the garden of his Lake District hideaway, that her family had been very 'supportive'. There's a lot of it about. Mr...
My Advice to Ambitious Politicians Worried about Whether They'll Ever Be PM: Keep Your 'Air On!
Everyone knows that this is the media age, and that television is all-powerful. The image is all. In the modern age politicians are judged not so much by the fineness of their minds or the nobility of their ideas as by the appearance of their faces....
Not Always Happy and Glorious
The Mouse in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland would have found an appropriate use for this thick book. After the Duck, the Dodo, the Lory, the Eaglet and the others have all fallen into the pool of tears, he offers to dry them out: `Ahem!' said the Mouse...
...Plus C'est la Meme Chose
WINDS OF CHANGE by Trevor Royle John Murray, 19.99, pp. 308 It is hard to describe what fun it was getting rid of the African empire. We danced and laughed and puffed at aromatic herbs, sure that we were cleaning our own country of the sour taste of...
Portrait of the Week
Miss Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker of the House of Commons, told MPs on their first day back after the summer recess that `very serious' allegations affecting the reputation of the whole House (the so-called `cash for questions' affair) should be dealt...
Rise, Fall, and (Up to a Point) Rise
IS THERE a British motor industry? Up to a point, Lord Copper. In fact, up to the point where 1,532,084 cars were built here in 1995, compared with 897,560 in 1955 which, we're all agreed, is when there was definitely a British motor industry. There...
Saying Goodbye to the Islands
Who now remembers the Dutch East Indies? The third largest empire in the world, jewel of the Dutch Crown, was invaded and occupied by the Japanese in 1942 and, after the Japanese surrender in August 1945, gave way by degrees to Indonesian independence....
Serious Fun and Dangerous Games
Beyond the Front Line's sensational subtitle, `The untold exploits of Britain's most daring Cold War spy mission', creates false expectations. It is true that this engagingly anecdotal history of the Brixmis Mission, from the author of the hugely successful...
Sinister Happenings
At Stratford East there is a rare chance to see a staging of Marie Belloc Lowndes's The Lodger, a Jack the Ripper thriller famously filmed by Hitchcock with Ivor Novello in 1926 and then twice remade when the talkies came in, first with Novello himself...
Spin Doctoring: An Early Case
THE SIGHT of Barbara Castle jabbing her finger fiercely from the rostrum of a Labour Party conference put me in mind of the last time the Labour Party was on the verge of electoral victory. Harold Wilson had just been elected Labour's leader and the...
The Car: For and Against
Steven Norris, who has worked in the car retail business, is a former Transport Minister, and whose autobiography, Changing Trains, has just been published by Hutchinson, puts the case for: IN ANY audience, there is one infallible way of separating parents...
The Conferences: A Postscript
Kate Hatch writes: THE EDITOR asked me to go to the Conservative conference to be `chatted up'. I am no feminist, but even I would have preferred him to send me to add the final word on the single currencey. Still, I suppose it meant that I was considered...
The Nearest Run Thing
The 20 July 1944 attempt by Stauffenberg to kill Hitler was depicted by Churchill in the Commons as 'a murderous internecine power struggle with the highest personalities in the German Reich murdering one another'; Hitler described the conspirators as...
The PM Is Going to Raise the Issue of Class, but This Is Not Inverted Snobbery. It's Inverted Socialism
The Prime Minister raised the issue of class last week for three reasons, which did not include inverted snobbery. In ascending order, his motives were: teasing, low politics and high social vision. There is nothing wrong with a tease, as in John Major's...
Time to Close That Saloon
LORD WAKEHAM and Virginia Bottomley have reached the same sorry conclusions about the press as others in their respective positions have before. They must have our sympathy for their impotence, but at the same time they must be condemned for perpetuating...
Vision and Boundless Hope and Optimism-There's a Lot of It About
I lere on Wall Street, these are heady days. The world's biggest economy, as valued by its stock market, is worth a half as much again as it was 21 months ago, and everyone wants to be part of it. Sales of mutual funds, the little man's way in, look...
What's It like, John, Down There in the Class-War Sewer?
It was not only immoral of John Major to try to breath fiery life into the dying embers of the class war - at the precise moment when the Labour Party has finally abandoned it - it was also a tactical error. Immoral because the class war, like any other...
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