Saturday, 27 January 2018


To Tate Modern this evening. Absolutely rammed with people drinking. Didn't feel right at all. So is it a pub now? On to the Red Star Over Russia show. No art to be found there, either. Plenty of propaganda posters. Felt distinctly uncomfortable. Someone has been hoarding all this. I daresay a show of Nazi propaganda prints is not far off: it is really not very different. Grim. And if you are going to show this stuff, find a museum that does history. Insofar as there is 'art', it is mostly of that communist kitsch kind with which owners like to deck out second rate restaurants.

...and another thing. The little brochure you are given as you go in to the exhibition tells us that "The German invasion of 1941 drew the USSR into the Second World War''. I'm sorry - what? On 17 September, 1939 the USSR invaded Poland. On 30 November the communists started trying to invade Finland. This was followed by Soviet annexations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Romania. Pretty warlike if you ask me. All part of a pact the USSR had with Nazi Germany.

The Tate giving us alternative facts.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


Very good to have a new collection by Douglas Dunn. These lines are from the poem 'The Nothing-But', from 'The Noise of a Fly'
To have kissed the lips of one who is dying
Is to have tasted silence, salt, and wilderness,
And touched the truth, the desert where there is no lying...


23 January
The Bridge Theatre
Nicholas Hytner, Director
Ben Whishaw (Brutus), David Morrissey (Mark Antony) Michelle Fairley (Cassius), David Calder (JC)
Shakespeare Club outing to JC at the new Bridge Theatre.

RM; "It wasn't for me"
RP: "I thought that was marvellous"
RW: "They were afraid of the intimacy"
NM: "You can't carve with guns"

Well, it starts brutally with a band playing Seven Nation Army rather (perhaps not inappropriately) badly but loudly (gig-loud).  This is for the benefit of the 'mob' (£15 promenade tickets) which gets frequently shifted about  through the course of the evening as different parts of the stage rise and descend, and bodies or military equipment are moved in and out. The production is more or less in the round, in, you will have gathered, modern costume.  The assassins have guns rather than knives (which are really not as 'intimate' as knives, and nor can they be said to 'carve').  The late war scenes are pretty well done: loud and unpleasant, with actors dashing around with guns (very Johnny 7) - but it does look nastily like a battlefield. 

 On the whole, I am for togas.  The audience is usually clever enough to make its own comparisons, draw its own conclusions.  We really don't need Trump jammed down our gullets.  

I thought the thing stuttered along until the assassination, at which point the pace picked up, specifically with David Morrissey's very good Lend Me Your Ears.  That sold me.  Ben Whishaw is a very good actor (FR however could not drive Paddington Bear from her mind), but he perhaps lacks that stolid, almost dim gravitas that I think Brutus needs  ("It was all a bit Chekov" RW remarked of his and Cassius' bivouac argument/make-up scene).  Michelle Fairley (Cassius) I thought was not quite sure whether she should be pretending to be a man or not.  What can be said is that I heard almost every word of this play, which is incredibly rare.  Whether this is to the credit of the performers or the superdooper uptodate acoustics of the Bridge, I don't know.  A bit of both, I daresay. 

 JC is a tricky play: one is never quite sure who it is about, and, prefiguring Psycho, the person you thought it was about gets killed in the middle.  Nonetheless, I expect that with time (it hasn't actually opened yet) this production will find a rhythm that will give it both the intimacy and the cohesion it somewhat lacked this evening.  I think if we average out the marks it  comes in at perhaps 6/10.  I'd give it a B+ myself and expect it to rise to an A- .  What began questionably ended enjoyably.

Finally, a word for Leaphia Darko as Portia, who spoke her small part beautifully.  I look forward to seeing more of her.

Saturday, 20 January 2018


"...that which is public is not necessarily popular, and opinion is not necessarily the same thing as sentiment..."
from John Lukacs, 'Five Days in May, London 1940'

Wednesday, 17 January 2018


My review in Commentary Magazine.


"She just knows humanity, one of the rarest things in the world" - Walter de la Mare on Charlotte Mew. One could say the same of Penelope Fitzgerald, in whose book 'Charlotte Mew and Her Friends', this is to be found. One the best biographies I have read: wise, kind, and sharp.

Saturday, 13 January 2018



This picture is reproduced unsatisfactorily in black and white in Penelope Fitzgerald's brilliant 'Charlotte Mew and Her Friends'. Bramley was one of the artists of 'the Newlyn school'. Mew visited Newlyn, in Cornwall, in the 1890s. and set a story there called 'The China Bowl' (see them on the table? - as Fitzgerald observes "they seem to suggest a story of their own").


I heard Gary Oldman, who plays Churchill in Darkest Hour, talking about the twinkle in the great man's eye, his energy.  Here's an excerpt from my biography of my father, Kicking the Bar (available through all good booksellers, cough, cough), which describes the way in which Churchill could, as it were, become 'Churchill'. despite black dog, age or sickness.

In the November before [Orson Welles'] Sketchbook, Dad had been the producer in Downing Street for a special programme celebrating Winston Churchill’s 80th birthday.  Donald Baverstock, another inspiring Welshman in Talks, who was producing a news programme called Highlight and who would go on to become Editor of Tonight and eventually Controller of BBC1, suggested that the programme take the form of a party. Grace Wyndham Goldie, the overall producer, agreed. The great and the good from around the world would make toasts to the great man.  The hope was that Churchill would respond.  No-one knew whether he would or not. Dad, Lord Ismay and Wyndham Goldie planned for three endings to the programme. Years later my father told his own version of the Churchill story to Frank Gillard.

Now Churchill had to be there of course watching in Downing Street [but] there wasn’t a television set there in those days… Grace asked me to go down there. Anyway, I went down there, and presently his family turned up…  but no sign of the great man. And then, just before the programme was due to begin, he came in with his wife. I’d been told that he looked old, but I had simply not been prepared for the sight of this pterodactyl coming very, very slowly into the room.  I mean, he looked about eight thousand years old… and his skin was like yellow leather.  He shuffled to his chair, sat in the wrong one I need hardly say;  anyway, there it was; and paid no attention to his children, all of whom said ‘Hello’, and paid no attention to them at all. Still less to me - he didn’t see me. 
     The News was on, and there was a camera, looking at him.  He looked at the News and in a very, very broken, switched-off, childish voice, he said, ‘Is this the programme?’
     And in a reverential bellow - because it was clear to me that you had to speak very loudly to get at the old thing at all – in a reverential bellow I said, ’No. This is the News.  The Programme,’  I said,  ‘will follow in a minute, and Lord Ismay will be there in Shepherd’s Bush talking to you.’  He said ‘Ismay is in Paris.’ And I said, ‘No, Ismay has come over especially for the programme, and he will be talking to you in a minute or two.’  Then I said,  ‘You’ll be here watching the programme, and when at the end they… wish you God speed and best wishes… if you want to respond in any way, all you have to do is look into this camera over here, and you can speak directly to them, and I will give you a signal for doing that if you like.’  To which he paid no attention, none.  So I was very apprehensive.  I went round the back of the chair to Clemmie [Lady Churchill] and said, ‘Do you think he’ll say anything?’  And she said, ‘It’s very difficult to say.  He’s very tired.’
     …I rang Grace up in the studio and said I had no idea what was going to happen. He looked like an old tortoise – and it wasn’t at all clear to me that he would speak. 

Cut to Grace Wyndham Goldie at Lime Grove:

It was impossible to believe that he knew in the least what was happening. But when Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, at the end of her message, said “Courage, that is your greatest gift to those who know you”, I watched, unbelieving, on my gallery monitor the ancient head move slowly from side to side in a gesture of negation and tears rolling slowly down the leathery cheeks.  Only we in the gallery saw this incredibly moving spectacle.  And we were filled also with professional relief.  He was registering something after all.[i]

Back to Dad:

Anyway, the programme took place, and he betrayed no emotion of any kind, of pleasure or displeasure – except that whenever Clemmie was mentioned he looked slightly in her direction, but whether to say ‘How nice’, or alternatively ‘Why should that be said?’, it was impossible to draw any conclusion.
     The programme came to an end, and I heard Ismay give his final speech, so I was alert and I was just preparing to signal Churchill towards the camera, Ismay having said ‘So best wishes for the future, dear Winston,’ or words to that effect, when I looked towards the great man.  He was sitting up in his chair and his eyes were fixed on me, and it was exactly as if I’d come round a little bend in a Pembrokeshire hedgerow in 1934 in one of those little Austins, and run into a gigantic red lorry.  It was like running into searchlights head on.  In some curious way he appeared to have switched on.  I nervously signaled him towards the camera, and he then moved his entire chair so that he was facing it, and instantly spoke in this enormous diapason, ‘I have been delighted’ and so on, ‘This remarkable ….’ And a great sonorous sentence came out, Gibbonesque, very, very good, very much to the point, extremely rounded, very masculine, very virile, very Churchillian.  So he came to the end of his peroration and looked away from the camera to me, glared at me and said ‘Good night!’
     Then I heard the trumpets blowing, so I knew we were off old Churchill.  I rushed up to him, and so did his family, and everybody said, ‘You were wonderful,’ ‘You were marvelous,’ all that sort of thing, but he paid no attention, he’d switched off again.  He said to his wife,  ‘I hadn’t had time to prepare,’ and she said, ‘You were very good, Winston.’  He said, ‘But I hadn’t had time.’  He shuffled to the door, and then he did look round for a moment at his family – not at me, he never paid any attention to me from beginning to end – and he switched on for a minute. ‘I’m going to have a bath,’ he said, and pushed off. It was a memorable programme, beautifully done by Grace.


[i] Grace Wyndham Goldie, Facing the Nation (London: Bodley Head, 1977) p.171

Monday, 8 January 2018

BOOKS 2018

KAROO by Steve Tesich
FIVE DAYS IN MAY, LONDON 1940 by John Lukacs
THE NOISE OF A FLY by Douglas Dunn
CHICAGO by David Mamet
THE MELODY by Jim Crace
LAST STORIES by William Trevor
GHOSTS by Henrik Ibsen
AFTER THE PARTY by Cressida Connolly
YOU LEFT EARLY by Louisa Young
FIREFLY by Henry Porter
MEMENTO MORI by Muriel Spark
SIX MINUTES IN MAY by Nicholas Shakespeare
IN MY MIND'S EYE by Jan Morris
PUT OUT MORE FLAGS by Evelyn Waugh
RODNEY STONE by Arthur Conan Doyle
OFF MY CHEST by Keyvan Moghissi
SAS ROGUE HEROES by Ben Macintyre
PAST TENSE by Lee Child

Sunday, 7 January 2018


Very enjoyable. These paintings could be by no-one else. That's a mark in his favour. And despite all his subjects (there is only one picture that has no figures in it) having exactly the same features - elongated nose, small mouth, arched eyebrows - they are all remarkably distinctively different, markedly themselves. Then again, what he seems to really enjoy is shape, gracious shape, so that many of these images are beautiful, something we don't necessarily expect or even approve of in modern art. He errs perhaps now and then into the decorative, but not too often. His portraits are both true to life and artificial, almost to the point of abstraction. i wonder if he would have gone that way had he lived. i think maybe he might. Anyway, here's the only pic in there that's not of a human figure: