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. 281, No. 8870, 1998

A Fellow of Infinite Prickliness
THE WARDEN by John Lowe HarperCollins, 19.99, pp. 352 This review must reflect my own relationship with John Sparrow. He played an important part in my Oxford life from 1945 until his death in 1992. Even before this he was known to me, as to many undergraduates...
A Girl Named John
At first glance nearly 300 pages about Radclyffe Hall - or John as she preferred to be called - and her soi-disant wife, the terrible Lady Troubridge, might seem more than the average reader could possibly cope with. Indeed in her new biography, Diana...
A Musical Outing
VIRGIL THOMSON: COMPOSER ON THE AISLE by Anthony Tommasini W.W. Norton & Co., L22.50, pp. 605 'As soon as Lou Rispoli came back from lunch, he knew he was in for it.' The opening paragraph of Anthony Tommasini's book found me nervously checking that...
A Question of Due Respect
Ronnie Knight is a London gangster, or, as he would have it, a 'rascal'. Rascality in his case includes being charged with suspicion of murdering a man whom, he admits, he wanted murdered (he was found not guilty), and of handling stolen money (for which...
A Taste for Living Dangerously
VERONICA GUERIN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A CRIME REPORTER by Emily O'Reilly Vintage, L6.99, pp. 208 Brave campaigning journalists do not have to be nice, well balanced people; in fact, they are frequently tiresome, obsessive and a pain in the neck to their...
A World Elsewhere
Anyone serious about culture knows that art unguided by an ideal is likely to be vapid. But it is also true that when art is swamped by an ideal the result is generally kitsch. This happens when an artist is unable to express in an artistically convincing...
Battery of Information
The habit of giving themes to Prom concerts has become increasingly intensive over the recent past. It is, of course, a feature of modern life that festivals tend to have themes, usually one, though two is a possibility for the larger series. The Proms,...
Books on Tape
It is a queer business finding oneself suddenly blind. It happened to me just after Christmas and the last book I read, which seems an infinitely distant event, was a Dick Francis thriller of which I cannot now remember a word, and would in the normal...
Callas: Fact and Fiction
As time passes and the farther we get from the days of Callas the more her legend seems to grow; yet, alas, the more inaccurate and often trite does the story of her life so easily become, as a recent BBC 2 documentary (13 July) suggested. This one did...
Can't Wait for the 16th
You can't fault the Mercury Prize for its timing. At the height of this unusually warm and glorious summer, the record companies slumber peacefully. Radio stations play even more golden oldies than usual, while outdoor-gig fans revel in a sea of mud,...
Cataracts of Verbosity
If you thought that Robert Robinson used to talk too much when he presented Stop the Week on Saturdays on Radio Four, you should listen to Stephen Fry in Saturday Night Fry which occupies the same slot after the 6 o'clock news. He is to Robinson what...
Communal Appreciation
It's easy to go on the defensive about Porgy and Bess before anyone has attacked it. It is so transparent a work, it tugs at the heartstrings so unashamedly, that one's natural reaction is to regard it as tuneful (no one can deny that), but about as...
Dear Mary
Q. My husband and I live in Scotland for much of the time. Consequently we have to have people to stay if we want any sort of social life. My problem is that someone always insists on coming into the kitchen to help me with the cooking when I would really...
Descartes' Parrot
Pauline Melville is riding the crest of a wave and, judging by her new collection of short stories, The Migration of Ghosts, there is no reason why she should not stay there. The hideous pink lobster on the cover of the book does not encourage the reader...
Diary
Five-thirty p.m. It's twilight time at the Coliseum, the changeover period between the matinee and the evening show. Weighed down by a shoulder bag full of pointe shoes, I make my way down the stairs to dressing-room one. The corridors backstage are...
Distilled Surprises
Robert Medley (1905-94) was an artist of originality and distinction, a painter of `distilled surprises' as his pupil and friend Maggi Hambling puts it, who succeeded in reconciling the polarities of his temperament (the austere and the baroque) and...
Foreign Affairs
In the past, the long visit of a major foreign dance company was a recurring feature of the summer dance season in London as well as its highlight. This year, the absence from the capital of pirouetting foreign visitors has left many dance-goers gagging...
Here We Go Again
I DON'T mean to upset you, but it's the Charity Shield this weekend. Yes, football starts again, with the World Cup hardly cold in its grave. Let us make no jokes about the season never actually stopping, because it isn't a joke; it is now the truth....
Imperative Cooking: Egyptian Viagra
THERE'S a moment which all good hosts and cooks will know. It is when the guest says, `This is wonderful. Tell me, where did you get the idea for this from?' It is not as silly a question as it sounds. It's wrong in that cooks don't get sudden, new inspirations,...
Intruder in the Dust
Waterloo Story is set in a Britain on the cusp of change. It is 1964. Harold Wilson has promised to forge a brilliant future in the `white heat' of advanced technology. A social revolution is predicted by pundits and pop stars, but so far little has...
I've Got the Blues
The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole. And not for nothing is the syndicate which owns Rhapsody in Blue named the Eternal Optimists. Our pride and joy had six duck eggs in front of his name as he paraded round the Lingfield saddling...
Letters
Lethal practice Sir: The principles espoused by Alan Duncan are laudable ('I refuse to lead a lynch mob', 25 July). We are unable to find any lynch mob, only seductive blackmail of a rural community. The practice of placing an extremely dangerous man...
Macdonald's Takeaway
We do not share the broad indignation at Mr Gus Macdonald's being made a minister with responsibilities relating to business and industry at the Scottish Office. We do share, however, the broad amusement. Mr Macdonald has got the job without taking the...
Mind Your Language
`EVEN DOT nods,' Michael Lynch has written to my grammatically sensitive editor from the economic and social history department of Leicester University. I do indeed nod, often, appearing on occasion like a dog on the back shelf of a motor-car. But not...
Pompous Paternalism
I blame Genesis, chapter one: `And God said, Let us make man in our own image, and . . . let them have dominion . . . over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.' Ever since, humans have imagined that they have not only the right, but the religious...
Portrait of the Week
Mr Gus Macdonald, a television presenter and executive, but not a member of the Labour party, was appointed Minister for Scottish Industry; the Queen agreed to make him a peer, but many Labour MPs regarded the appointment as a slur on their party and...
Public Money Tied Up
WHEN the National Health Service was created exactly 50 years ago, no one could have imagined that one day its funds would be used to subsidise training courses in sado-masochism for gay men. But that is precisely what is happening in the Britain of...
Second Opinion
THERE may be a nation more frivolous and contemptible than the English, but somehow I doubt it. I have travelled the world and sojourned in several remote countries, but I have never encountered a people which knows so little about how to live as the...
Small Is Dazzling
Though I would hardly go as far as my revered colleague Milton Shulman, who on his retirement last year memorably announced that in half a century of nightly theatre-going he had seldom come across a truly great play, it is true that in the reviewing...
Stain of Perjury?
New Hampshire THE DRESS is back. It's a simple little cocktail number, in basic navy blue but with a tasteful accent of dried semen in the middle. When we first heard about it last January, in the first frenzy of Monica mania, many correspondents --...
Tagliatelle Alla Mussolini
Predappio, Italy ONE HUNDRED-ODD fascists, of both sexes and all ages, last week made the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery here where their idol Benito Mussolini is buried, to celebrate mass in honour of his birthday, 29 July 1883. The ceremony, one...
Ten Little Egyptians
Tutankhamen, now the most famous of the pharaohs, was virtually unknown in his own time. After all, he came to the throne at the age of eight, and was dead before he was 19. The cause of death is unknown; it could have been an accident, such as being...
The Case for the Prosecution
THE HIDDEN WORDSWORTH: POET, LOVER, REBEL, SPY by Kenneth R. Johnston Norton, 30. 00, pp. 960 Rumour has it that when Kenneth Johnston was researching this massive revisionist biography in Cumbria he was liable to strip off and jump naked into the nearest...
The Eagle Spreads Its Wings
The United States army must have been a strange place between the wars. It was hardly at the forefront of innovation, and ranked seventh (behind Romania) in 1939. In the British army it was the pace, rather than the necessity, of mechanisation that was...
The Noises, the Smells and the People
FREEDOM SONG by Amit Chaudhuri Picador, L12.99, pp. 196 This is an interestingly audible novel. Some writers excel in conjuring up the visual world; others are magicians of dialogue. Amit Chaudhuri has an enviable way with sounds. He evokes the background...
The Quest for Clean Water
In recent years American angling literature has expanded beyond the merely instructional or devotional to embrace fiction (Maclean, Duncan), gonzo journalism (Dr H.S. Thompson) and even personal philosophy (Fly-Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis was...
The Real Deal
Sparta Forget Tuscany it's for the likes of Kinnock, Blair (wearing ludicrous sandals and using a Queen's Flight), Fergie, and a paymaster-general who forgets to list his assets when it suits him. Sparta is a place where only real men go for the summer....
The Sugar Club
SOME people go out to dinner simply because they are hungry. Lunch, however, is always a performance where the food is the amuse-bouche and the main course involves closing a deal, starting a love affair or celebrating a birthday. It's decadent in the...
This Week's Demolition Job
There is no obvious connection between summer and scenes of mass destruction, but, ever since Jaws, that's the deal. So here we go with this week's demolition job on midtown Manhattan. It seems barely 48 hours since Godzilla was rampaging through Central...
What the Legg Report Tells Us about Mr Cook and His Big Picture
There was an obvious inference to be drawn from the government's choice of reshuffle day for the publication of the Legg Report on Sierra Leone: that ministers wanted to avoid scrutiny. They have. The stratagem has worked and, after reading the Report,...
Who Will Run the Scott Trust When the Sackings Have to Stop?
National newspaper editors, let alone proprietors, are now more powerful than most Cabinet ministers. What annoys me is that they are not subject to scrutiny. They are loath to criticise or even mention each other, and journalists are too cowardly to...
Why Alexander Was Not So Great on Television
Since some historical programmes on television can be rather successful, it is not an iron law of the cosmos that they must all be rubbish. But it is still quite iron. This is odd. It is not as if television were some exciting new experimental medium,...
Why I'm Modern, but Not Modernist
`MEN come together to live. They remain together in cities to enjoy the good life.' Aristotle was right more than 2,000 years ago - and the centuries have not eroded his wisdom. The fortunes of the city have waxed and waned throughout our history, but...
Why Was That Waiter So Cross with You, Tony? I Offered to Pay Him in Sterling
The Blairs stride up the hill into San Gimignano, settle down in the square and order themselves a brace of refreshing negronis. Later on; when the bill comes, it comes as a shock. 'I thought', says Cherie, `that the pound was supposed to be strong.'...
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