Autumnal Equinox Round-up

–A N Wilson writing in the Times newspaper reviews a new book by Dominic Sandbrook. This is number 5 in a series Sandbrook is writing about the cultural and social history of England in the post Suez period. It covers 1979-82, the opening years of the Thatcher Government which include the Falkland Islands War. According to Wilson:

Who Dares Wins, the fifth volume in Sandbrook’s sequence, covers the time of Diana Spencer’s marriage to Prince Charles, of John Lennon’s assassination in New York, and the prodigiously popular television dramatisation of Brideshead Revisited. Was that nostalgia for a British past that had never, exactly, been as Evelyn Waugh depicted, or a sign that the Old Britain was not as dead as progressives might have hoped?

If the past is any indication, Sandbrook will also work up a TV documentary based on this book (or may have already done so–The 80s with Dominic Sandbrook was broadcast in three one-hour episodes by BBC2 in 2016). While Wilson does not comment on that feature of Sandbrook’s presentation, he does recommend the books:

The tomes — starting with Never Had It So Good — are huge, the pace is leisurely, but your reviewer, who has read them all with growing admiration, can testify that they are never dull. If anyone wants to know what has been happening to Britain since the 1950s, it is difficult to imagine a more informative, or better-humoured guide. 

–Charles Moore, politician, journalist and author, reports in The Spectator on a recent trip to Poland. While in Gdansk he visited the:

… Museum of the Second World War, only a few miles from where it began when the German battleship the Schleswig-Holstein bombarded the Westerplatte in September 1939. The first notice you see reminds you that this war was the result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact the previous month, and that Poland was the first and greatest victim. As Evelyn Waugh puts it at the beginning of the Sword of Honour trilogy: ‘The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms.’ Eighty years on from the month in which Germans from the West and Russians from the East crushed Poland, it is sobering for an Englishman to see how marginal — although we declared war for the sake of Poland — Britain was. The deep tunnels of the museum exhibit distressingly the utter, yet unutterable destruction. We were, by comparison, bystanders.

–Charles Moore also gets noticed in the Daily Mail’s excerpt from the memoirs of  journalist and publishing executive Nicholas Coleridge entitled The Glossy Years. It was Moore who, while they were both at Eton, advised Coleridge to apply to Cambridge to read Theology since the only subject he excelled in at Eton was Scriptures. “According to Charles, there were at least five Theology dons at Trinity, all with endowed sinecures, crying out for pupils, it being vaguely embarrassing to have nobody to teach.” Coleridge was admitted and, after Cambridge, decided to try journalism:

I’d read somewhere, probably in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, that the best route into journalism was to start as a tea boy on a national newspaper. So as my gap-year began, I posted off a letter to the first newspaper editor I could think of: John Junor, Editor of the Sunday Express. At the time, he was the towering laird of Fleet Street: Scottish, trenchant, cranky and famous for proclaiming that only homosexuals drank white wine. It was to Junor I addressed my job application to push the tea-trolley…’I’ve read your letter, sonny, but you can never be a tea boy here. The unions won’t wear it. You have to be the son of a tea boy to be considered, or a nephew. If I so much as suggest it, they’ll down tools . . .But I’ll tell you what,’ he went on. ‘I can send you to the Falmouth Packet as a trainee reporter. It’s a local rag down in Cornwall, one of ours. We can pay you £14 a week.’

Coleridge went on from the Packet to work for Tatler, Harpers & Queen and ultimately chairman of magazine publishers Condé Nast. Coleridge may well have remembered reading the story about Fleet Street and tea boys, but I don’t think it was in Scoop. Waugh worked briefly for the Daily Express in 1927 as a trainee but wasn’t hired so he may have borne a grudge. But I couldn’t find the “tea boy” story in Scoop.

–Coleridge’s book is reviewed in the Times. The review, by John Walsh, opens and closes with references to Evelyn Waugh, starting with another allusion to Scoop:

Fans of Evelyn Waugh might recall a story in which a posh but clueless young journalist called Nick is sent to cover the civil war in a former British colony, despite knowing nothing of the conflict between the warring tribes. Nick and his friends rent a car and drive north to the rebel stronghold, but are arrested by government troops and banged up in a grim prison. Luckily, a jailor tells the local newspaper about the jailbirds, the Evening Standard prints the story, and Nick’s mother reads it in her Chelsea hairdresser’s. His father phones the prison, Nick is released and the police chief tells him: “You must come back soon for a holiday.”

If you don’t remember it, don’t worry, it’s not by Waugh and it’s not even fiction. It’s exactly what happened to the journalist Nicholas Coleridge, aged 26, when he was sent by Lord Cranborne to make a documentary about the Sri Lankan civil war in 1983. But like much else in The Glossy Years — a scintillating memoir of Coleridge’s life in fashion magazines, meeting every glamorous human being that flourished in the late 20th century — it reads like something from a comic novel by Waugh, PG Wodehouse or Nancy Mitford.

After a breezy discussion of the book’s contents and Coleridge’s career, the review closes with this:

If the book’s later accounts of dealings with committees and rich patrons at the V&A suggest a distinguished old boy handing out prizes on speech day, one can forgive Coleridge, after he’s crammed so much life, gossip and larks, so many tales from the crazy end of fashion, money, glitz and celebrity into the preceding 300 pages. This must be the most entertaining book of the year. As the characters in Vile Bodies might say, it’s utter bliss.

–Finally, the Wall Street Journal reviews a new novel by Ann Patchett. Here’s the opening paragraph in the review by Anna Mundow:

The dominant figure in Ann Patchett ’s new novel, “The Dutch House,” is in many ways the house itself, a captivating childhood home that later becomes, as one character puts it, “the hero of every story, our lost and beloved country.” Like the Flyte family’s castle in Evelyn Waugh ’s “Brideshead Revisited,” this grandiose mansion holds the past entombed and its inhabitants enthralled. But the Dutch House is also unmistakably American. Built with tobacco money in an era when “ready-made cigarettes lined up in their cartons were a luxury for the rich, as were acres never walked on by the people who owned them,” this 1920s Pennsylvania residence seems constructed of glass and light. “Not only could you see into the Dutch House,” the narrator explains of its vast windows, “from the driveway you could let your eye go up the front steps . . . across the long marble floor of the foyer, through the observatory, and catch sight of the lilacs waving obliviously in the garden behind the house.”

The review goes on to describe how the family splinters into dysfunction, but all members including those who are exiled remain tied to the house. Brideshead in the novel is not in fact a “castle” although that is its name. It is a large Baroque country house built from the ruins of a former castle on the site.




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