Labor Day Roundup

–Sebastian Payne writing in the Financial Times describes a non-boring dinner party of his own contrivance. The venue will be Riley’s Fish Shack at Tynemouth on the northeast coast of England and the chef will be Adam Riley, apparently owner and proprietor of that establishment. While it sounds rather downmarket, Payne is confident it is the right choice. First to arrive is hostess Katherine Graham, late owner of the Washington Post, and then, Michael Heseltine, well known politician from the Thatcher era:

An unlikely duo follow. Moving creakily, sniffily ignoring the man beside him, is Evelyn Waugh. After the long car journey from Somerset, the novelist is buoyed along only by the glimpse of the drinks trolley. He has recently completed his finest work, Brideshead Revisited, yet remains utterly irascible. Accompanying him is an artist also enjoying acclaim. Miles Davis has shocked the jazz scene with his move to intense, rock-influenced music. As they approach the shack, he attempts, in his familiar rasp, to convince Waugh of the merits of his compositions. The author will have none of it, describing all jazz as “shallow”. Even when they are plied with drinks, my early attempt to bridge relations fails.

Another politcian then joins in. This is Barbara Castle, veteran member of the Labour party and “ardent socialist”.

[…] After the first round of seafood is swept away, Craster kipper wraps are delivered with bottles of dry-as-a-fishbone 2007 Haus Klosterberg Riesling. Waugh is now well into his stride, tearing into Castle for her efforts to protect lives with seatbelts and Breathalyser tests. “How is a fellow meant to get home when he is tight and the police are lurking behind the bushes?” he yells. Davis barks in agreement, but Heseltine suggests the writer might “stop being such an arse”.

After reciting the various courses and the guests’ reaction to them (and to each other), Payne concludes

With the sun rising over the North Sea, the final drops are emptied from the 20-year-old Ledaig malt and the soft notes of Davis’s horn echo around the bay. Waugh is soundly asleep and Castle has bustled back to Westminster. Heseltine, Davis, Graham and yours truly remain in intense discussion. Affirmation in each other, amid this seaside beauty, has been achieved.

–The Irish Times has an article by Donald Clarke which considers the likelihood and advisability of the announcement of new BBC director Tim Davie that he is going to seek more political balance in the network’s comedy programing. Clarke offers an analysis which seems to suggest that, if political balance is a valid goal of comedic content (a point he doesn’t necessarily concede), then Davie has a daunting task ahead of him. After reviewing the pronounced leftwing bias of TV comedy in both the UK and US media, Clarke writes:

This is not to suggest there have been no funny right-wing British artists. Evelyn Waugh, arguably the greatest comic novelist of the 20th century, once expressed his disappointment that, after receiving his vote in repeated elections, “the Conservative Party have never put the clock back a single second”. He supported hanging for a bewildering number of offences. Yet the jokes in his novels Decline and Fall and A Handful of Dust are as ruthlessly funny as any in the language. Kingsley Amis, his immediate successor as comic novelist in chief, began his career as a communist and ended it as a near-demented admirer of Margaret Thatcher. […] The Old Devils, published deep into his reactionary years, is no less amusing for its author’s apparent hatred of – to quote Waugh in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold – “everything . . . that had happened in his own lifetime”.

–The OUPBlog has posted a notice about a new publication. This is entitled The Spirit of the Blitz: Home Intelligence and British Morale. The notice is written by one of the book’s authors, Jeremy Crang, and opens with this:

During the Second World War, the morale of the British public was clandestinely monitored by Home Intelligence, a unit of the government’s Ministry of Information that kept a close watch on the nation’s reaction to events. Intelligence from a wide range of sources and every region of the United Kingdom was collected and analysed by a small team of officials, based at the Senate House of the University of London. The team compiled regular reports on the state of popular morale. The reports covering the Blitz, which began with the mass bombing of London on 7 September 1940 and continued until May 1941, provide a unique window into the mindset of the British at a momentous time in their history.

The story of the Home Intelligence unit during this period is reminiscent of an Evelyn Waugh novel. It’s the tale of a group of unorthodox wartime civil servants, headed firstly by Mary Adams (a pre-war television producer) and then by Stephen Taylor (a neuropsychiatrist), who analysed the data and compiled the reports. One of the unit’s chief sources was the social research organization, Mass Observation, run by Tom Harrisson, a self-taught anthropologist and buccaneering self-publicist who had taken part in expeditions to the South Seas and made friends with cannibals.

The Home Intelligence group is more than “reminiscent” of an Evelyn Waugh novel. It actually appears thinly disguised in his 1942 novel of the phoney war, Put Out More Flags. This sounds very much like the department of the Ministry of Information where Ambrose Silk works for Mr Bentley in the novel. It was also located in the Senate House.

–In the final article of a series in The Tablet about the writings of Walker Percy, Fr Robert Lauder includes this:

Both Percy and Flannery O’Connor claimed when a contemporary storyteller told a story with a religious message, the author was taking a chance because society had become so secular, readers would miss the religious dimension of the story. I have seen that happen more than once. Occasionally even the critics miss the message. One of the most discouraging examples I can think of involves Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece “Brideshead Revisited.” There was an 11-part series on television dramatizing the novel that was the best series I have ever seen on television. There was also a feature film version that played in theatres years after the television series. I once met the star of the series, Jeremy Irons, and I congratulated him on what a magnificent production it was. He asked me, “Did we get the religious part right?” I assured him that the production beautifully captured Waugh’s Catholic vision. Irons was delighted and said, “We tried very hard.” The version that played in theatres was incredibly bad. Its creators missed the religious dimension of Waugh’s novel completely.

–Finally, Durham University has posted on an internet site an audio file of the talk given by Martin Stannard last year about Evelyn Waugh’s travels in the USA. The talk is entitled: “Evelyn Waugh, Catholicism and America.” See previous post. It is available at this link.

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