May Day Roundup

–The second part of Alexander Larman’s centenary recognition of Kingsley Amis has appeared in this month’s regular issue of The Critic. See previous post. He starts with an amusing description of Amis’s somewhat ramshackle acceptance of his Booker Prize for The Old Devils and then continues with this:

…In his centenary year, the man once regarded as the greatest comic novelist since Evelyn Waugh is now seen as little more than a joke himself, a Blimpish caricature of a bon viveur whose major books are little more than reactionary relics of a (thankfully) bygone age, and whose minor works are, at best, blessedly forgotten squibs and, at worst, vile indicators of personal failings that would, in our more enlightened era, have immediately led to Amis’s cancellation. (One can only imagine what Kingers would have had to say about the culture wars.) […]

But generally, Amis’s writing is now seen, even more than Waugh’s or his friend Philip Larkin’s, as the grim expression of a disordered mind. To admit to an affection, let alone an idolatry, for his works is to stand above the parapet and declare oneself a thoroughly wrong ’un. 

Well, I have been tarred and feathered for my literary views before, so another round of denunciation will make little difference now. Amis remains, along with Waugh, the finest comic novelist of the twentieth century — and yes before you say “what about Wodehouse”, Plum is essentially a timeless writer who removed himself from anything so dull as social concerns or normal life — and a memoirist, correspondent, critic and even poet of distinction, even brilliance.

–Alan Bennett has put together another collection of diaries. This one is entitled House Arrest: Pandemic Diaries.  It will be published in the UK early next month. Here’s an excerpt in the Guardian from the diaries for 7 May 2020:

Harriet Walter is doing Soldiering On and asked Nick [Hytner] how it was I “did posh so well”.  Short of a ready explanation he said (somewhat desperately) he thought it was because I had been a friend of Debo D [the late Duchess of Devonshire]. There is some truth in this in the sense that my awareness of upper-class tropes comes not from Debo but her sister Nancy, whose The Pursuit of Love I have known ever since I first discovered it in Majority 1931–1952– the omnibus edition of Hamish Hamilton publications, read when I was at Oxford. “Too many memoirs” would be another explanation (and “some Evelyn Waugh”).

Whether this volume includes writings other than the diaries is not clear from the Guardian’s excerpt or the listing. Nor is it clear whether it includes previously uncollected diaries from 2019 or before.

–Craig Brown in the Daily Mail considers the infelicitous language occasionally used by Media and Sport Minister, Nadine Dorries, such as “downstreaming” videos and building tennis “pitches.” She blames this on her dyslexia. Brown is reminded of similar expressions uttered by former deputy leader of the Labour Party John Prescott:

…Prescott is now remembered not for any legislation he introduced, or political battle he ever won, but for his butter-fingered way with words. As Evelyn Waugh once said of the poet Stephen Spender: ‘To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sevres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee.’

Like Prescott, Nadine Dorries is in the habit of rounding on those who snigger at her failings; she condemns them as insensitive. But it’s never a two-way street: she demands sympathy from others, but is abusive herself.  ‘You think you’re sensitive, but you’re not,’ says Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. ‘Your sensitivity only works for things that other people do to you. Touchy and vain yes, but not sensitive.’

The Waugh quote re Spender is from a review appearing in EAR.

–The Jacobin magazine has a story by Anne Colamosca about foreign correspondent George Steer who scooped the story of the 1937 German bombing of Guernica in Spain:

…Steer and a small group of foreign journalists had rushed to Guernica after hearing that the historic town had been decimated on the afternoon of April 26 — a market day. Many other reporters filed their stories the following morning. But as Nicholas Rankin explains in his 2003 biography, Telegram from Guernica, Steer’s story broke the explosive news that it had been the German Luftwaffe, specifically the Condor Legion, that had almost completely destroyed Guernica. Steer’s story ran on the front pages of newspapers around the world — rightly seeing the attack as a “dress rehearsal” for the global war that would follow.

Steer had previously gained credibility as a co-respondent by reporting from Abyssinia:

George always wanted to be a newspaperman and did an apprenticeship with a South African paper before being hired by the Times at age twenty-five. He immediately flew to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and soon become a personal confidant of Emperor Haile Selassie. He would earn a reputation for his sheer obstinacy, intractability, and dark, relentless humor, explains Rankin in his excellent biography of Steer. “He was to the right of George Orwell but well to the left of his journalistic nemesis in Ethiopia, Evelyn Waugh.” (Waugh never failed to write in support of Mussolini in his articles for the Daily Mail.)

See previous post.

–Christopher Howse in the Daily Telegraph objects to UK Justice Secretary Dominic Raab’s reference to prisoners as “residents” or “clients.” This is in an article entitled “Prisoners aren’t ‘clients’, because words can never buck reality.” Here’s an excerpt:

It’s always the way with euphemisms. In Evelyn Waugh’s novella on the American way of death, an embalmer says to an orderly: “Will you tell Mr Joyboy that my Loved One is ready for posing? I think he should come now. He is firming.” Firming is really rigor mortis. And The Loved One, the dead person, gives the story its title. The more the phrase is repeated in the book, the weirder it seems.

I am sorry to say that loved ones have figured often in broadcasts during these pandemic years. No doubt it was meant kindly. But what of all those people who died and weren’t much loved? Waugh, of course, was fascinated by a Californian attempt to effect a cultural shift in attitudes to death. After all, he had called an earlier novel Vile Bodies, a reference to the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer, which is very plain in its language about the dead body that we commit “to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

Yet despite constant failures through the decades to change reality by changing the language describing it, we find more and more that organisations are getting at us via special vocabulary.

–Finally, the Guardian and other papers report the death of Gavin Millar (1938-2022). He was a noted director of TV and film dramas in the 1960-80s. His best work is considered by the Guardian to have been the direction of Dennis Potter’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland; this was entitled Dreamchild. He also directed Alan Bennett’s Intensive Care and one of the monologues in his Talking Heads.

He will be best remembered by our readers for his direction of the 1987 William Boyd adaptation of Waugh’s novel Scoop. This was produced by London Weekend Television for transmission on ITV.  It was a one-off production, not a series, and was not accorded the praise that was its due. This was particularly the case for some of the secondary parts such as Denholm Elliott who played Mr Salter and Michael Hordern who had the part of Uncle Theodore. Indeed, the scenes at Boot Magna were far the best of the adaptation, as they were also, for some readers, of the book. They alone were well worth the price of admission. A 1972 BBC multi-episode TV adaptation by Barry Took was even less successful.


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