Tax Day (U.S.) Roundup

–A review of the recent Netflix film entitled Scoop appears in The Hollywood Reporter and several other papers. It is written by Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell and opens with this:

Scoop is a dramatized feature about the BBC’s Newsnight team scoring a sensationally revealing 2019 interview with Prince Andrew about his relationship with millionaire sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. For a film about a journalistic exclusive, it has the most generic title possible. There are already at least four other movies out there called Scoop, including a rubbishy 2006 Woody Allen film and a 1987 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s peerless 1938 satirical novel, a twofer satire of both the press and the British aristocracy.

Sadly, this latest Scoop has none of Waugh’s acid wit or alkaline intelligence. Although serviceable as a retread of the events that led up to the royal interview conducted by Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis … , an interview recreated for big chunks of the running time, it doesn’t significantly deepen or enrich our understanding of the personalities involved — let alone journalism, privilege, sexual exploitation or the price of fish.

The Oldie has a review of a new book by Charles Spencer (Princess Diana’s brother) discussing his dramatically unhappy prep school experiences. This is entitled A Very Private School. Here’s an excerpt of the description of interview conducted by Hugo Vickers:

…Spencer gives us a devastating portrait of ‘Jack’ Porch (1926-2022), the headmaster, who presented one face to the parents, another to the boys. He was not only a sadist, but also a paedophile. According to an old boy of the school known to me, he was ‘a good educationalist’ and he certainly wrote sympathetic and perceptive school reports to the parents. […]

There was something sinister about those schoolmasters. If you seek horrific reminders of the type, Google ‘Nevill Holt School’, a similar institution, which was closed down in 1998, following rafts of accusations.

Evelyn Waugh said it all in Decline and Fall when young Paul Pennyfeather is unfairly sent down. He hands back his key to his porter who comments: ‘Very sorry I am to hear about it. I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.’ Many of the masters in Spencer’s day would have been damaged by the war, or by their avoidance of it. Today, many would be in prison.

–A list of 10 recommended biographies of “captivating writers” appears on the website Early Bird Books. This is compiled by Orrin Grey and includes this entry for the 2016 biography of Evelyn Waugh by Philip Eade:

Graham Greene once called Evelyn Waugh “the greatest novelist of my generation,” and yet this troubled and fractious figure has been veiled in enigma and scandal for decades. In this gripping new biography, drawn from a variety of first-hand sources, author Philip Eade aims to “re-examine some of the distortions and misconceptions that have come to surround this famously complex and much mythologized character.”

The result is a book that should delight both fans of Waugh’s many classic novels and newcomers to the author who are looking to learn more about one of literature’s most complicated figures.

–Michael Dirda has written in the Washington Post a thoughtful and entertaining review of Nicholas Shakespeare’s new biography of Ian Fleming. The review is entitled: “How did Ian Fleming create James Bond? He looked in the mirror.”  Here’s an excerpt:

…Again and again, Shakespeare’s biography reminds us of what a tight little island Britain could be for those of its privileged class. If you’ve read any of the books about the Brideshead generation, you’ll find many of the same people cropping up in Fleming’s life, including the critic Cyril Connolly, a former Eton classmate, and Evelyn Waugh, whose novels Fleming would like to have written more than his own. He even counted the multitalented showman Noel Coward as a confidant and once shared a wealthy girlfriend with Roald Dahl, to whom he gave the idea for a famous story, “Lamb to the Slaughter.”

Then there was the socialite Ann O’Neill (nee Charteris), whose Etonian husband was killed in World War II while she was having an intense affair with the newspaper magnate Esmond Rothermere, whom she eventually married. Soon thereafter, Ann broke Rothermere’s heart by sleeping with their friend Ian Fleming. Against the advice of almost everyone he knew, Ian married Ann in 1952, having kept his mind off the upcoming nuptials by writing “Casino Royale.” It took him just a month. A son was soon born, but the new Mrs. Fleming loved dinner parties and house guests, while her new husband was at his happiest snorkeling and playing golf. Neither was faithful to the other.

As with his excellent biography of the travel writer Bruce Chatwin, Shakespeare has produced one of those books you can happily live in for weeks. It will deservedly become the standard life of Ian Fleming, replacing a fine one by Andrew Lycett that appeared almost 30 years ago. Bond devotees, however, should be aware that there are no close analyses of the novels, and the only films discussed are the early ones with which Fleming was involved. … [Links in original.]

Whether Shakespeare discusses to any meaningful extent Waugh’s long-standing  friendship and correspondence with Ann Fleming and, to a certain extent, her husband, isn’t mentioned. But given Shakespeare’s own connection to Waugh scholarship through his direction of the three-episode 1980s BBC Arena production that has come to be known as The Waugh Trilogy, it seems likely that he would have more to say about Waugh than is suggested by this review. For the record, Cyril Connolly is more likely to have been the Eton classmate of Ian’s older brother Peter than he would have been of Ian. Here’s a link to the review.


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