Sunday, 24 January 2016


And the mood became sweeter.  The music that was being played came to an end, and in the wonderfully lit room, blurred circles of light thrown on the ceiling from the lamps on the floor, people stopped dancing.  What next came on went straight to my heart - sad guitars, words, a song, an American girl singing 'Barbara Allen'.
      That voice!  It needed no music; it hardly needed words. By itself it created the line of the melody; by itself it created a whole world of feeling.  It is what people of our background look for in music and singing - feeling.  It is what makes us shout 'Wa-wa! Bravo!' and throw bank notes and gold at the feet of a singer.  Listening to that voice, I felt the deepest part of myself awakening, the part that knew loss, homesickness, grief, and longed for love.  And in that voice was the promise of a flowering for everyone who listened.
    I said to Indar, 'Who is the singer?'
    He said, 'Joan Baez.  She's very famous in the States.'

This is a passage from V. S. Naipaul's great novel A Bend in the River.  The narrator is an Africa-born Indian who has left the east coast to open a store in the Congo.  The location is a new university in his town, presided over by a white American professor.  'Barbara Allen' is of course an old English folk song.  Naipaul was intrigued by identity long before it became the rage, and he understood that it is a complicated business.

Monday, 18 January 2016

BOOKS 2016

MY LUNCHES WITH ORSON: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, edited by Peter Biskind
AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare
SWEET CARESS by William Boyd
LOOP OF JADE by Sarah Howe
A BEND IN THE RIVER by V. S. Naipaul
FREYA by Anthony Quinn (Spectator review here)
SHYLOCK IS MY NAME by Howard Jacobson
RECKLESS by Chrissie Hynde
THE OUTSIDER by Albert Camus
BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell
FAIR FIGHT by Anna Freeman
BLACK WATER by Louise Doughty (Review here)
ORPHAN X by Greg Hurwitz
THE WICKED BOY by Kate Summerscale
A WREATH OF ROSES by Elizabeth Taylor
THE RETURN by Hisham Matar
FALSE NINE by Philip Kerr
DARLING BABY MINE by John de St Jorre (Review here)
THE PATRIOTS by Sana Krasikov (Review here)
ON MORE YEAR by Sana Krasikov
THE FACE OF BRITAIN by Simon Schama (Review here)
BORN IN THE USA by Bruce Springsteen
NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan
CONCLAVE by Robert Harris.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016


National Theatre, Olivier
Director: Polly Findlay
Talent: Rosalie Craig, Joe Bannister, Matk Benton (Touchstone), Paul Chahidi (Jacques)
Club: RM, Emma, RW, RP, NM, WW

"Over-directed", muttered Mr RM at half-time, referring not least to the preposterous set, which, whatever the clever interpretive thinking or the brilliantly theatrical execution involved, struck me - and indeed most of us, I think - as mere whimsy, detracting rather than adding to what is indeed an almost whimsical play.  Whimsy of genius of course.  Again at half time Mr NM thought the performances "uneven".  The second half, in which the weight of interest shifts from Rosalind's relationship with Celia to her training up of Orlando, was tremendously well-paced and funny. Rosalind takes the play by the scruff of the neck, and, as it were, directs the action.  "They played it like children, they seemed to be having fun," remarked NM at the end, and even the hey nonny-no's that sometimes infuriate Mr RW were acceptable.  The club has seen AYLI twice before - both RSC productions - in 2006 (Lia Williams) and 2009 (Katy Stephens). I don't remember either very well, although I do rate Victoria Hamilton's Michael Grandage-directed go at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1999 as amongst the best Shakespeare productions I have ever seen.  This one may live in the memory - I hope not merely for the upside down furniture.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Press Conference with Orson Welles

Here is a curiosity. Dad's first show with Welles was 'Press Conference' Usually subjects were politicians. Dad wrote to his father about Welles: “A really outstanding man, a singular & a great person, whose stature would not respond to the twittering tempo of what I had set up... I was doing … a shoddy injustice to one of the most remarkable people I have ever met” .
Orson Welles takes the hot seat in this in-depth and…

Saturday, 2 January 2016


Well not mine, but Henry Jaglom's

t as close as the last century got to a Leonardo, curious about everything, knowledgeable about everything, full of anecdote and gossip and wisdom and humour and opinion. It is quite impossible not to see Welles as immensely likeable, which I believe he was. But I shall always remember my father, who worked with him several times, and who admired him hugely (placing him in a select fraternity that included Marcel Duchamps and Lloyd George), telling me that he could never have worked for him - although Welles asked - because although a genius, he was also a liar. The only problem was that one never knew what was the lie and what was the truth.

Review of Private Places

My modesty - not robust at the best of times - will not allow me to let Tom Phillips' review of my book 'Private Places' go without broadcast to the furthest corners I can reach.  Tom is himself a fine poet, with two collections published by Two Rivers. Good info on Tom here:

Here is Tom's review, written for Tony Lewis-Jones's Various Artists e-zine, and published within the last week.

There’s something immediately engaging about Wynn Wheldon’s poems. No matter that the book’s called ‘Private Places’ or that many of the poems in it do indeed stem from such privacy and from such places, Wheldon’s rhythmic strategies and easygoing tone are invitational. This is a world which – despite its various intimacies – he wants us to share, a world which, while he might have got it all wrong (as he does in the opening poem, ‘Language’), offers up some kind of meaning for all its casual cross-purposes.
At the heart of this collection is an adeptness with language, a felicity which can half-rhyme ‘funeral’ and ‘opal’ or ‘dull’ and ‘hall’ without drawing attention to itself and pulls off the kind of momentary linguistic wrong-footing that is, in the long run, more satisfying than any amount of metaphysical posturing. When, for example, did you last read a Faber poet open up with the ruefully laconic ‘Occasionally, I am adrift’? Or a sure-footed post-Heaney metafabulist start from ‘The cemetery ladies visit once a year/between cherry blossoms and forget-me-not’?
Life is, Wheldon seems to be saying, quite ordinary, but it is also something other, a morass of memories and associations, a shifting surface of stuff, some of which sticks and acquires value – whether that be the sunlit shape cast on a lover’s back or a group of canoeists from Birmingham who mysteriously disappear in what ‘the English call Hell’s Mouth’ – and some of which simply leaks away into anonymity. The poet’s job – if he or she has one – is to salvage what they can from the wreckage, isolating moments from an endless flow and then finding the words that might just fix them into some kind of frame, some kind of posterity. That Wheldon’s poems are almost always only provisional is perhaps also part of their appeal. They are investigative, non-definitive at their most seemingly definitive and rueful where they might well have been bitter. In ‘Air Ambulance’, for example, he stands in Green Park and watches while some kind of medical emergency is evacuated, reflecting on ‘a woman loved long ago’, before asking ‘So what’ve I done? Stopped smoking’ and taking a step back with ‘The richness of youth is spent in living.’
Published in the likes of The Rialto and The Spectator, Wheldon is a poet worth reading. His approach, perhaps, may be out of fashion, but when did that ever matter? ‘Private Places’ is a book whose privacy opens out in a myriad directions.
Poems start, in other words, with the seemingly random – ‘I liked the shape of the lawnmower’ begins one – before shifting gear and tying in to some kind of history, whether familial and domestic or big and public. The shapely lawnmower, for example, yields up an image of Wheldon’s father ‘Breasting into now, alive’, while ‘some punk singer’ lunging at the poet with ‘a pair of garden shears’ in ‘A Bit of a Myth’ nails the punk rock 1970s into an adolescent rites of passage. And what, Wheldon asks, would Catullus or Martial have made of ‘the electric erotic’, 21st-century digital porn seen through the eyes of lubricious Roman satirists?

'Private Places' is available from Amazon, but also - and preferably - from