Presidents Day Roundup

–Ben Dowell reviews  a new TV serial about Coco Chanel’s life in wartime Paris. The title of the review tells much about the story: “New Look Review–Nice Dresses: Coco Chanel–pity about the Nazi boyfriend”. The article in Saturday’s Times newspaper opens with thus:

‘Nazis! I hate these guys!” If we are going to imagine how we would respond to life in the Second World War, most of us would probably like to think our response would be the unimprovable one uttered by Indiana Jones. Still, what about the actual business of getting by? In the many stories about ordinary lives caught up in this epic conflict, from Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War to Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, the sheer random cruelties and helplessness of those years have been superbly realised on the small screen.

But what if you are the celebrated designers Christian Dior and Coco Chanel? Well, we actually know a fair bit about how they operated and that is the subject of Todd A Kessler’s The New Look, the latest lavishly funded epic drama from Apple. The first three episodes dropped this week and they’re spent in occupied Paris…

Financial Times also reviews another recent TV series with a nod to Evelyn Waugh. The review is by Jo Ellison. Here’s an excerpt:

I hate to be the one to disappoint, especially in Valentine’s week and in the fugue of romance that tends to befall us at the time of year. But we must disabuse ourselves of the cultural preoccupation that hot, dumb posh boys with crowds of buddies fall for smart, caustic, socially awkward girls. The latest manifestation of this pervasive brain/brawn romantic fiction, One Day, started streaming on Netflix last weekend. A 14-part adaptation of David Nicholls’ rabid bestseller, first published in 2009, it follows a will-they-won’t-they-ever-get-their-rocks-off friendship over decades via an annual check-in — the perfect episodic structure for a TV adaptation in this binge-drama age…

At a time when wage inequality has become a burning issue and opportunity stagnated, it’s perhaps inevitable that we might press our greasy noses to the window to perve at the super-rich. We may frown at nepo babies, but we still fawn over Succession offering a small glimpse into that world. One Day echoes the same themes of class, aspiration and opportunity best explored in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It’s presumably no coincidence that the famous TV adaptation of that 1940s drama first aired at another time of huge inequity, and the rising tide of Thatcherism, in 1981. …

–David Slattery-Christy describes his recent biography on the website Great British Life. This is about Harry Clifton who lived in Lytham Hall, a stately house in Lancashire. Waugh is mentioned in the book’s title: Flyte or Fancy–You Decide: Evelyn Waugh meets Harry Clifton on the Road to Brideshead. Here’s an excerpt:

…[Harry Clifton] went to Oxford to study Modern History at Christ Church in 1926 at the insistence of his father. This is where he found his wings and experimented with life and sex. Although we know that Evelyn Waugh visited Lytham Hall in the 1930s, and much speculation has evolved that he became an inspiration for Waugh’s character Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, it’s fairly certain that Harry and Waugh would have met at Oxford in the private drinking clubs that were for the time so hedonistic and sexually liberated. Interestingly, Sebastian Flyte in the novel Brideshead Revisited also had rooms at Christ Church and was, like Harry, a spoilt, petulant and rich young man.

After a visit to Lytham Hall in the 1930s, Waugh wrote to Lady Asquith to say the Cliftons were “all tearing mad” but also made some complimentary remarks about Lytham Hall, saying it was “a very beautiful house by Kent or someone like him with first-class Italian plaster work. A lap of luxury flowing with champagne and elaborate cookery. Mrs Clifton, Easter (or so she seems to be called), Orsa [Avia], Michael, a youth seven feet high with a moustache who plays with a clockwork motor car and an accordion.”

The Cliftons were Catholics, and Waugh would convert to Catholicism in the 1930s, but his opinion of the places of worship was less than complimentary: “Five hideous Catholic churches on the estate.” Waugh then went on to say: “Large park entirely surrounded by trams and villas. Adam dining room…all sitting at separate tables at meals. Two or three good pictures including a Renoir. Appalling heat. All sitting in sun with a dozen aeroplanes overhead and the gardens open to the public.”…

The quote is from a letter of 24 June 1935 (Letters, 94-95).  The book is available from and can be shipped to America. Here’s a link.

UPDATE (20 Feb 2024): Citation to Letters added and misspelling of book title corrected.

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