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. 279, No. 8835, 1997

A Chronicle of Blunders
MODERN ITALY: A POLITICAL HISTORY by Dennis Mack Smith Yale, 35, 14.95, pp. 534 I first opened this book on 9 October, the day Prime Minister Prodi resigned rather than face a confidence vote in parliament. His coalition was crumbling. On my car radio...
All Guilty, Some More Than Others
THE SLAVE TRADE by Hugh Thomas Macmillan, 25, pp. 810 Historical sensibilities have always been in flux. Conceivably they have become more discriminating in the last 200 years or so. Macaulay thought so, joyfully penning paragraphs that damned the 17th...
America and Its Priapic Presidents
SEYMOUR STREET and Seymour Hersh are several thousand miles apart, except when it comes to evaluating presidencies. The latter is a Pulitzer prize-winning author, the former is a thoroughfare in downtown Vancouver, where President Bill Clinton was for...
Ancient & Modern
TED HUGHES, the poet Laureate, has written a sonnet in honour of the Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon. Does this herald the return of `praise poetry'? It would solve all sorts of problems if it did. The budding praise-poet who wishes to become master of...
An Important but Invisible Man
NELSON MANDELA by Martin Meredith Hamish Hamilton, L20, pp. 596 The life of Nelson Mandela is, in many senses, a mystery But he has the effect of making people think they know him. He does the same thing to his biographers. As a result, accounts of the...
An Impossible Woman
An impossible woman Robert Taylor JENNIE LEE: A LIFE by Patricia Hollis OUP, L20, pp. 459 Jennie Lee once described herself with typical immodesty as the `grande dame' of the Labour movement. In truth, after reading this remarkably candid biography,...
An Israeli Incident in London
THERE is an old joke about the Joint Israel Appeal, the body in Britain which raises funds for the Jewish homeland. It concerns two men marooned on a desert island, discussing their plans for a return to civilisation. The first busies himself in raft-building,...
Berlin Trio
On holiday for a week visiting Berlin for the first time, it was impossible to resist sampling all the city's three opera houses. Reporting on them must be less a regular review than a sort of restaurant column (for a genre dubbed 'culinary' by Brecht),...
Blair's Blues vs the Redbrick Reds
`There's a great dark smudge over there. That must be a big city.' `It's probably Rummidge. A great dark smudge sounds like Rummidge.' (Changing Places, David Lodge) I walked down the empty Broad to breakfast, as I often did on Sundays, at a tea-shop...
Blessings in Disguise
MISSING THE MIDNIGHT by Jane Gardam Sinclair-Stevenson, 10, pp. 212 In this pleasingly compact volume of stories, Jane Gardam imbues everyday life with the possibility of the miraculous through elements borrowed from fairy tale and folklore. The collection...
Books of the Year
Duncan Fallowell I love doorstep biographies, the complete wallow, and the best this year is Anton Chekhov by Donald Rayfield (Harper Collins, 25). Its tone is deadpan but the view is total. I'm only halfway through because I keep stopping to re-read...
Circus Trickery
An obsessive lover of the Broadway musical in general and those of Kander & Ebb in particular, why do I now find myself the only critic in London underwhelmed by the current revival of Chicago at the Adelphi? No musical of recent times, not even...
Clash of Drumsticks and Flying Salami in Somerset's Wild West
Bridgwater is my favourite town. Auberon Waugh may boast of the delights and horrors of Taunton but Bridgwater is more newsworthy. Recently its `Battle of the Drumsticks' made the nationals, including the front page of the Times. Nor is this surprising....
Dear Mary
Q. We will soon have another visit from an American friend who is always welcome except for his inability to lift the lavatory seat. Cleaning up is unpleasant work. How can we draw attention to this oversight? I don't want to have to buy a little plaque...
Diary
If New York is the centre of the universe, then Madison Avenue between 60th and 61st Streets is the proton in the nucleus of the hydrogen atom. Little wonder that I felt rather smug on opening my store, Shanghai Tang, there, and I was smugger still to...
Do I Lack Sophistication?
It would be an exaggeration to say that Otello has fallen on hard times, but fair to claim that its reputation is not what it used to be. When I was getting to know about opera, it was taken for granted in operatic circles that Otello was Verdi's masterpiece....
Dominated by the Second-Rate
In his dark, Kensitongton basement flat, filled with books and beautiful earthy pottery, Sir John Drummond was prowling around, twitching like a large, penned-up tiger. `Does anybody have a clear idea how to get it right?' demanded that sonorous, unmistakable...
Dying for His Country
Another rock star has been sacrificed on the altar of public fantasy. The apparent suicide of Michael Hutchence, lead singer of the Australian band INXS, boyfriend of Paula Yates and father of Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, has dominated the British press....
Get Better Soon
HAND TO MOUTH: A CHRONICLE OF EARLY FAILURE by Paul Auster Faber, L15.99, pp. 436 I hope that this book doesn't mean that there's something the matter with Paul Auster. He is the most distinguished American writer of the generation below Updike and Bellow,...
Going Swimmingly
At 6.45 a.m. coming down the hill into Lambourn you see the early morning lights studded across the Valley of the Racehorse like dew-drops glinting on a spider's web. Whey-faced stable lads were struggling into puffer jackets to keep out the damp, work...
Good Companions
My father-in-law's black labrador has made friends with a fox with whom he plays in his kennel at dusk. Labradors are notoriously greedy, but this one will reserve some of his food for his companion. We are all rather worried that he'll pine if the fox...
Harry in a Spin
New York DURING a lecture Harold Evans gave earlier this year he joked that he often felt like the husband in the New Yorker cartoon whose wife is whispering to him at the cocktail party, `Tell him who you were, Henry. Tell him who you were.' It was...
Imperative Cooking: The Ready-Grated Woman
TAKE two peeled carrots and two courgettes. Hold them aligned and chop them on the bias, Chinese-style. Slice two onions. Now sit down, make yourself comfortable and tell me, and be honest, how do you feel? Exhausted? Exploited? `Not at all.' Are you...
Intoxicating Ashton
An intriguing component of Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee is the refined sauciness that permeates the work and counteracts the delicate choreographic imagery, thus preventing the work from slipping into balletic soppiness. There is no doubt that,...
Just the One Over
New York The only person who does not come under suspicion for having written `Don't ban fox-hunting' on the back of Cherie Blair's place-card is yours truly. As some of you may have heard, our benevolent proprietor threw a high-powered dinner one to...
Letters
Down with public school Sir: It was startling to hear Douglas Hurd, when presenting The Search for Peace on BBC 2, lapse from political correctness by saying of Anthony Eden, `An Etonian, and none the worse for it!' Eden would have been a lot the worse...
Magic in Two Colours
PRAGUE IN BLACK AND GOLD: THE HISTORY OF A CITY by Peter Demetz Allen Lane, L20, pp. 411 It is unreasonable to expect that more than a handful of the millions of visitors flocking to Prague since the Velvet Revolution of 1989 will ever set eyes on this...
Mind Your Language
`WAS that a snort?' asked my husband, looking up from a paper on temporal lobe epilepsy. `It was. Listen, there's a front-page story in the Telegraph saying that a new book has traced the origin of OK to Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the...
No Growth with Gloomy Gordon
LAST WEEK I attended the historic first ever pre-Budget report by the Chancellor to the House of Commons. It was the first ever and it will also be the last. It reminded me of the inaugural annual dinner of one of those clubs that never meets again....
Obviously the Best
BASIL Fawlty said that his wife's specialist subject on Mastermind should be `the bleeding obvious'. It is a subject all journalists should study, at least all journalists who write about sport. There are plenty of subtle things to observe and discuss...
Once upon a Time in the East
Moscow `MY boyfriend was assassinated,' said Alexandra, when I telephoned her last weekend in the city I call Moscow Babylon. Every time I visit, I learn another of these fascinating sagas of this energetic, louche New Klondike. This is not one of those...
Over Exposure
Bruce Weber is a photographer worshipped by wannabes. He is an icon to thousands, possibly millions. In these times of street culture, Weber is a god. If he holds his lens at a new angle, street culture knows of it. It doesn't matter if the new angle...
Parliamentarian of the Year: The Winners
THE FOURTEENTH annual Highland Park/Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards were presented on Wednesday by Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the guest of honour, at a lunch generously provided once more by Matthew Gloag and Son...
Portrait of the Week: The Good Fairy
Mr Gordon Brown in a `pre-Budget statement' said the government would spend 300 million on after-school clubs for the children of lone parents at work; the clubs would be run by unemployed youths on the so-called `welfare to work' programme. Mr Brown...
Producer Problems
Chatting to a producer friend at Radio Four recently, I confided that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find new programmes or series to praise. He rather agreed but admitted he rarely listened to his own network except for the strand he worked...
Renoir Revealed
The most audacious exhibition on view in the United States at the moment is not in New York but Chicago. And it features not a trans-sexual `performance artist' doing unspeakable things with bodily fluids but the portrait paintings of the great Impressionist...
Round and under the Table
Robert Benchley is a curious figure, somebody whose posthumous reputation rests as much on what he did and said while sitting at the dinner table as on anything he committed to the page. He survives, principally, as the subject of the anecdotes of others,...
Second Opinion
sobbed. `But of course he's jealous and possessive?' `Yes.' `He doesn't allow you out on your own, he searches your things, he doesn't like you to use the telephone, and he asks where you've been if you're five minutes late?' 'Yes.' 'Criminal record?'...
Soviet Union, er, I Mean Russia
`LAST WEEK, it looked as though the Middle East was under American hegemony; this week, it looks more like a shared United States condominium with Russia.' Such, at least, was the verdict of a senior Israeli official on the Russian-brokered deal which...
Stop Subsidising Opera!
The only thing the Royal Opera seems to have done successfully is shoot itself in the foot - it has, literally, pulled the house down on itself. Instead of wasting 213 million attempting to renovate a worn-out and hopelessly outdated Victorian theatre,...
Taking Pains to Be a Good Pupil
It's all very well having a rapier wit and a black belt in killer irony, but I'd happily sacrifice both for the ability to wipe out my enemies with my bare hands. No doubt that's why I took such pathetic, boyish pleasure in this account, written by a...
That's Not Gordon's Dog, It's an Independent Dog, So Don't Blame Him When It Bites You
The Green Budget confirms my belief that Gordon Brown has been watching Inspector Clouseau. This explains what he has been doing with the Bank of England. Pink Panther enthusiasts will remember the scene: `Does your dog bite?' `No, my dog does not bite.'...
The Blair Tank's Blitzkrieg
DEMOS is the Prime Minister's favourite think-tank and it is not hard to understand why. Quirky, eclectic, chic, narcissistic, Demos claims to lie - like him - at the `cutting edge of modernity'. Its young fulltime staff (most of them are under 30 years...
The Finger of Guilt
The finger of guilt Louis Blom-Cooper HANRATTY: THE FINAL VERDICT by Bob Woffinden Macmillan, 116.99, pp. 497 If (as seems almost certain now) the Criminal Cases Review Commision the Criminal Cases Review Commission refers the conviction of James Hanratty...
The Higher Gobbledygook
If this book and its predecessor, The Jung Cult, are to be believed, the psychiatrist C. J. Jung was a self-deluding imposter who saw himself as a reborn god with a lion's head. In trance states before and during the first world war he entered the underworld...
The Most Sympathetic Roman
The most sympathetic Roman ANTONY by Allan Massie Sceptre, L16.99, pp. 213 Antony and Ahenobarbus embraced. Watching, I feared a dagger. But instead there were smiles. This is something which has always puzzled me as a Greek, the way in which they can...
The Other Reshuffle
THE NIGHTS are drawing in, the wind is whistling round Westminster's mock-Gothic turrets, and MPs and journalists are settling down in the tearooms to their favourite game, the Cabinet reshuffle. New Labour, they say, is beginning to look shabby after...
Through Rose-Tinted Spectacles
Through rose-tinted spectacles Sion Simon CLEM ATTLEE by Francis Beckett Richard Cohen, L20, pp. 352 Truly great biographies are like first-rate cakes, best when made with love. Or, more accurately, the impressionistic aspect of a really good Life profits...
Too Neat
One-Night Stand (18, selected cinemas) During sex, Mimi likes to bark out instructions - 'Almost, almost. Circle, circle! Slower, gentle. Harder, harder! - leaving her husband twitching nervously like a man playing a sudden-death video game with a wonky...
Two Middle-Aged Men in Motion
Two middle-aged men in motion Kate Grimond A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bill Bryson Doubleday, L16.99, pp. 320 Travel writing is a remarkably durable literary genre. The world may shrink; few parts, bar the ice-bound caps, remain unknown; satellites can pinpoint...
Wanted: After Downey, a Real Inquiry into the Hamilton Affair
The name of Neil Hamilton turns many people off. They believe he is guilty as charged. I myself have written as though he is, accepting the judgment of Sir Gordon Downey that there are 'compelling' reasons for believing that he accepted cash in brown...
What's So Funny?
Situation comedy: the easiest critical target of them all. What makes you laugh doesn't make me laugh, and what makes the head of light entertainment laugh makes no one laugh anywhere else in the world. All new examples of the form are ritually disembowelled...
Why Britain's Piers Should Be Allowed to Slip beneath the Waves
What is the point of seaside piers? Why are they 'heritage'? Why are huge sums of government money being siphoned off to weld, paint, repair and shore up these ridiculous structures against the natural effects of salt water, wave and tide? Who precisely...
Why Tony Blair Wants to Protect the Monarchy
The royal golden wedding celebrations were much less fraught and much more felicitous than would have seemed likely a few weeks earlier. The post-Princess of Wales hysteria appears to have died down; there are encouraging signs of a restored equilibrium...
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