Derek Granger: 1921-2022 R.I.P.

The producer of the 1981 Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited Derek Granger has died at the age of 101. According to The Independent (Ireland) Derek was reported by close friends to have “died peacefully at his home.”  The obituary appearing in the Hollywood Reporter is thus far the most definitive:

Derek Granger, the British producer and screenwriter who served as the driving force behind the acclaimed 1981 miniseries Brideshead Revisited, died Tuesday at his London home, screenwriter Tim Sullivan told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 101.

Granger teamed with Sullivan and Brideshead writer-director Charles Sturridge on the grand period films A Handful of Dust (1988), starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench, James Wilby, Anjelica Huston and Rupert Graves, and Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991), featuring Graves, Helena Bonham Carter and Judy Davis.

A onetime journalist and frequent Laurence Olivier collaborator, Granger in 1958 joined Granada Television, where he was head of drama and produced the famed soap opera Coronation Street; the epic 1972-73 series Country Matters, starring Ian McKellen; a 1976 adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Olivier, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner; and, of course, Brideshead Revisited.

Based on Evelyn Waugh’s sprawling pre-World War II novel first published in 1945, Brideshead Revisited was voted the 10th best British program of all time by the British Film Institute in 2000. Starring Jeremy Irons, Diana Quick and Anthony Andrews, the ITV production raked in seven BAFTAs and was nominated for 11 Emmys, including the one for outstanding limited series.

“It was very highly experimental for the day because nothing like it of that scale had ever been done all on film except Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which was just a year before, but with nothing like the production values,” Granger recalled in 2017.

“There we were with foreign locations … hunting scenes, scenes on Atlantic liners … very grand houses … It was enormously spectacular. I don’t think anybody had quite worked out how it should be done. And of course we were making it. I mean, we started off to do six hours and ended up making 11!”

Born on April 23, 1921, Granger served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, then reviewed plays for the Sussex Daily News and Evening Argus in Brighton, England. Olivier liked his writing and recommended him for the job as the first drama and film critic for the Financial Times, where he helped launch the newspaper’s arts page.

However, Granger “was bored stiff with reviewing,” he told The Telegraph last year, “and was aching to go into television. At just that moment, I got a phone call from Sidney Bernstein, the founder of Granada TV, asking me if I’d like to join the company.

For 10 months in 1961-62, Granger was the second-ever producer on Coronation Street, where he introduced storylines that could span multiple episodes. He also produced its spinoffs Pardon the Expression and Turn Out the Lights as well as the documentary series Cinema and World in Action.

“With great sadness the production team at Coronation Street and ITV Studios would like to send heartfelt condolences to Derek’s family and friends,” ITV said in a statement.

He left for stints at London Weekend Television and the National Theatre (as a literary consultant to Olivier) before returning to Granada to produce six plays, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Harold Pinter’s The Collection, starring Helen Mirren and Alan Bates.

Brideshead Revisited — which won just one Emmy, for Olivier’s supporting turn — cost several millions to make and, interrupted by an ITV strike in 1979, three years to complete.

Because of the work stoppage, Granger was forced to replace his original director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had a previous commitment, with Sturridge, an inexperienced protégé of his at Granada who was in his 20s. “He turned out to be incredible,” he said.

Granger noted he and his team were driven to producing “something that is incredibly close to the feeling of the novel and would echo it. And I think … the television experience is as good, if not slightly better. But that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to be true to the Waugh.”

He retired in the early 1990s. His husband and partner of 66 years, interior designer Kenneth Partridge — he worked on homes for John Lennon and Ringo Starr and Beatles manager Brian Epstein — died in December 2015 at age 89.

Derek was a good friend of the Evelyn Waugh Society. He appeared at the society’s 2011 conference at Downside. He had met Waugh personally in 1952 while a reporter for the the Sussex Daily News. A copy of the interview and Derek’s own memoir of how it came about along with his personal assessment of Waugh are reproduced in vol. 19 of the Complete Works 0f Evelyn Waugh (A Little Learning), pp. 517 ff.

 

 

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Thanksgiving Roundup

–Iona McLaren writng in the Daily Telegraph considers the problem posed by readers who want to be warned against reading something that might upset them–in this case about books in which animals die. The article opens with this:

The US writer David Sedaris tells the story of his sister Lisa refusing to see a film because she had heard that a dog gets killed in the first 15 minutes. “I reminded her that the main character dies as well, horribly, of Aids, and she pulled into the parking lot, saying, ‘Well, I just hope it wasn’t a REAL dog.'” On behalf of Lisa – and, frankly, most English people – I am pleased that Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has been given a trigger warning by the University of Greenwich for depicting “animal death” when the mariner admits: “With my crossbow/I shot the albatross.” This is a poem in which many sailors die, some in quite imaginative scenarios, but it takes the betrayal of a seabird to get the eyes stinging. It’s because, as Lisa Sedaris says, “human suffering doesn’t faze us much”. We see ourselves parodied in Dame Mildred Porch and Miss Tin of Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief, trying to get 1930s Africa compliant with the RSPCA. As GK Chesterton once put it: “Wherever there is animal worship, there is human sacrifice.” […]

One somehow expected a suggestion of a trigger warning for Black Mischief that included references to avoidance of descriptions of racial prejudice and/or consumption of human flesh. However, after discussing several examples of trigger warnings that involve animals and other matters of readers’ potential concerns, the article concludes:

Of course, it’s good to feel something, sometimes, and the great thing about trigger warnings is they could help. Of Mice and Men, Bambi, and White Fang would all be there in the “WARNING: animal death” section of the library. And me? I’d be amusing myself in the “WARNING: child mortality” section for, as Oscar Wilde said of Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop: “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

–The Chelsea Arts Club has announced the presentation next week of a one-man play by actor Bob Kingdom entitled Bloody Brideshead: Both Sides of Evelyn Waugh. In this he explores “the complexities behind Evelyn Waugh.”  The performance will take place on 4 December at the club, 143-5 Old Church Street, SW3. You must be a member of the club or guest of one to attend. See above link for details.

The Times has an article in its “Feedback” column about what was once known as the “fourth leader” on its editorial page:

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a light-hearted leading article from 1946 celebrating the return of bananas after the war. This prompted Mark Negin to write from Ramsgate. If his memory wasn’t deceiving him, he says, “it was a regular exercise in the English class of my small prep school, evacuated to Wales, to write a precis of the fourth leader. It was always humorous and witty. When and why was the fourth leader dropped?”

Welsh prep school? This sounds like a scene from Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. My colleague Rob Nash tells me that Times leaders were also deployed at his boarding school, where he had to copy one out if he’d been naughty. It’s nice to know that they’ve had their uses.

Anyway, the banana fourth leader, as Mr Negin suspected, was a classic example of the Times institution kicked off by the paper’s proprietor, Lord Northcliffe, in a telegram to the editor from Paris, dated January 25, 1914: “Humbly beg for light leading article daily till I return — Chief.”

Northcliffe, who also owned the Daily Mail, was determined to get The Times into profit by broadening its readership, and introducing a bit of frivolity on the leader page seemed a good way to start. Whether it worked or not, the light leaders — they might have been the third or the fifth, but were always known as the fourth — continued to appear until 1967, when William Rees-Mogg became editor. Bent on raising the paper’s gravitas, just as Northcliffe had aimed to lighten it up, he axed the fourth leaders on his first day…

–The Spanish language publication La Diaria Cultura based in Uruguay has a brief article on Waugh’s career. After a review of his life and works, the article concludes:

With a long and prolific publishing life in Spanish during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, his work was published copiously by Losada, Alianza, Emecé, Criterio and Sudamericana, with translations written by Guillermo Whitelow, Pedro Lecuona, Floreal Mazía, Clara Diament and Juan Rodolfo Wilcock, among others–, Evelyn Waugh’s work deserves … all that attention, although for the average reader the mere mention of his name signifies a woman (there is a great joke about it in the film Lost in Translation, by Sofia Coppola), if not the comfortable and obtuse reductionism of placing him among the reactionary writers, “from the right”, that stoned seat to which authors such as Knut Hamsun, Curzio Malaparte, Ernst Jünger, Louis-Ferdinad Céline and many others, all apostrophized as conservatives and other epithets as useless as stupid. Of course, Evelyn Waugh himself would not be interested in the praise of his contemporaries or the worship of generations to come, since he knew that the fate of the world is nothing other than decadence. Not in vain in an interview for The Paris Review, from 1962, when asked what period of history he would have liked to live in, he replied: “The 17th century. I think it was the time of the best drama and the best romance. I think he might have been happy in the 13th century, too.”

The translation by Google leaves something to be desired in this particular case. Here’s a link to the original.

–The Guardian has a review of the BBC’s drama series SAS Rogue Heroes. This is by WWII historian Anthony Beevor. The article opens with this:

 I really have to take my hat off to Steven Knight. The writer of Peaky Blinders has adapted Ben Macintyre’s SAS Rogue Heroes, the authorised history of the Special Air Service, and turned it into the best dramatic series the BBC has produced for ages.

After a discussion of the plot and characters, Beevor continues with this:

In the desert, there was little time for snobbery. Right from the start, we see the SAS coming together as an unholy alliance of upper-class thugs, mostly from Guards regiments, along with “pirates” from other backgrounds who are equally violent and determined to fight the advancing Axis forces. In what was almost inevitably a misogynistic environment, men were judged on their courage and stamina. Several of them…may even have been suppressing gay instincts as they fought and drank men from other units into oblivion back in the fleshpots of Cairo’s red-light district. It was Evelyn Waugh, an officer from the Middle East commando unit known as Layforce, who claimed from personal knowledge that most gay men in the armed forces did not conform to popular stereotype. “Buggers were jolly brave in the war,” he wrote later to Lady Diana Cooper.

Randolph Churchill makes an appearance in Episode 5. The series is also discussed in previous posts.

UPDATE (28 November): Randolph referenced re SAS Rogue Heroes and typo corrected.

 

 

 

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Book Launch in Oxford for “Handful” and “Campion”

Lincoln College, Oxford has announced an event for early next month. It is entitled “From Despair to Faith: Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Edmund Campion“.  Here are the details:

You are warmly invited to a discussion, with Clare Asquith, Gerard Kilroy, Alexander Waugh, and Henry Woudhuysen, to celebrate the publication of the OUP editions of Edmund Campion and A Handful of Dust as part of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh.

The event will take place in The Oakeshott Room on Thursday 8 December, from 5-7pm.

Booking is required but there is no fee. Here is a link to the booking form. Kilroy and Woudhuysen are the editors, respectively, of the Campion and Handful volumes of the CWEW series. Campion will be published next week in the UK and Handful in early December. North American publication of both books is scheduled for February.

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World Cup Roundup

–A recent book with a Waugh theme was listed (with reservations) among the Daily Telegraph year’s best biographies:

Daisy Dunn’s Not Far From Brideshead (W&N, £20) is less satisfactory. What should be a dynamite intellectual history of how three great classicists – Gilbert Murray, Maurice Bowra and E R Dodds – shaped our modern world gets mired in the sort of creamy nostalgia that Evelyn Waugh found so embarrassing when he came to revise Brideshead Revisited in 1959.

–Another recent Waugh-related book gets a boost from Matthew d’Ancona on his website TortoiseMedia.com.  This is Hellfire: Evelyn Waugh and the  Hypocrites Club. Here’s an excerpt:

…For Waugh, it was a portal into aristocratic society. Cockburn described it as “a noisy alcohol-soaked rat-warren by the river.” High seriousness was disdained by its members but, as Powell would later recall, its members were “a collection, most of them, of hard-headed and extremely ambitious young men”, many of whom went on to occupy leading roles in national culture and the republic of letters. Like Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead, they used Oxford as a playground and salon for debauched self-indulgence, before embarking upon the harder business of adult life.

The club was finally closed down after a riotous party at which its members dressed as Queen Victoria, choristers in lipstick, Madame de Pompadour and, fatally, a nun – who was in fact Arden Hilliard, the son of Balliol’s bursar, spotted by the porters trying to slip into the college on the evening of 8 March 1924. This was sufficient grounds for a ban. But the bonds formed at the club would linger long into the century; 40 years after its closure, Waugh recalled it as the “stamping ground of half my Oxford life and the source of friendships still warm today.”

–A new documentary series on UK Channel 4 is mentioned in Church Times. This also has a Waugh element:

SOME readers of the Church Times will have felt ruefully familiar with the problems underlying Channel 4’s new series Castle Howard: Through the seasons (Sundays from 11 November). [sic] How to pay for essential repairs? Will numbers ever recover from Covid? And the never-ending challenge of responsibility for a beloved and inspiring chunk of our heritage…

The Yorkshire Post also has posted an article about the series.  See this link. The first episode briefly mentioned Brideshead Revisited in connection with a recent exhibition involving the costumes for the Brideshead adaptations filmed there as well as those  for the more recent Bridgerton series. The next weekly episode is scheduled for today, Saturday, 19 November at 810p. The first episode can be watched on the streaming site 4oD. A UK internet connection is required. The second will be available after tonight’s broadcast.

–Matthew Parris writing in The Times describes a recent TV award ceremony he attended. This was the Editors Media Freedom Awards and extended over several hours, through most of which he was bored:

…There was, however, a moment I’ll always treasure. The Daily Mirror were having a particularly good night but everyone was quiet to watch a harrowing clip from an award-winning documentary about Afghan women forced to sell their kidneys, the camera lingering on each awful scar as the poor women raised their clothing. After the clip came a second’s shocked silence. It was broken by the loud pop of a champagne cork from the Mirror table. Only the cold-hearted kept straight faces. Oh, Evelyn Waugh (I thought) thou shouldst be living at this hour. It could have been a scene from Scoop.

–An OUP editor with a sense of humor has written an extract for an academic journal’s review of a book entitled “Private Bill Legislation in the Nineteenth-Century Parliamentary Promotion from 1797 to 1914”:

This book reminds one of the delightful exchange between Guy Crouchback and the immortal Apthorpe in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. When asked to give a lecture to the troops, Apthorpe volunteers to talk about the jurisdiction of Lyon King of Arms compared with that of Garter King of Arms. Crouchback queries whether the men will be interested, to which the reply is ‘Not all of them, perhaps. Those that are interested will be very much interested indeed’.

Apart from the author’s wife Lizzy to whom this book is dedicated, and who we can therefore assume has a consuming passion for minute details about private bill legislation in the 19th century, not many people will be interested in this book. But those who are will be very much interested indeed.

And many of those who are not would probably be all the better for it if they were.

This is a book of consummate scholarship.

–Duncan McLaren sent the following message on the recent occasion of Evelyn Waugh’s birthday:

I had just written a birthday tribute to Evelyn when I began to receive anonymous postcards from someone paying his own tribute. As a result, this piece has a certain gravitas and complexity, not necessarily obvious from the start

 

 

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BBC Radio Adaptation of Put Out More Flags

BBC Radio 4 Extra will broadcast a 3 hour radio adaptation of Put Out More Flags in early December. This will be aired on three successive days starting Monday, 5 December at 0500 and repeated at 1000 and 1500, with a different episode each day. Each episode will one hour. It will be accessible on BBC worldwide via the internet shortly after the first broadcast of each episode. Here’s the link: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001fwx1>.

The adaptation is by Denys Hawthorne and was first broadcast in September 1990. Basil Seal is played by the late Simon Cadell, best known for his appearance in the BBC sit com Hi-De-Hi!.

Here’s the BBC’s description:

As the Second World War looms, upper-class loafer Basil Seal considers his role in the unfolding events.

Evelyn Waugh’s sixth novel, first published in 1942. The satire reprises characters found in previous novels such as ‘Decline and Fall’ and ‘Vile Bodies’.

 

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Waugh and Intermodernism

An academic article entitled “Intermodernism and the Ethics of Lateness in Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton” and published in English Studies, v. 103, Number 6 (2022) has been posted on the internet. This is written by Allan Killner-Johnson, University of Surrey. Here’s the abstract:

Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton had a deeply ambivalent relationship to the narrative of modernism, and their attempts to negotiate their position within the literary milieu of their own time clearly registers the tensions inherent in much of late modernist writing. Early modernism and high modernism were concerned with the nature of the ‘firstness’, of innovation and change, but as this article argues, intermodernism is best seen as an ethical mode that saw itself as increasingly removed from the organising attitudes of literary revolution. In their mid- and late-period writing, Acton and Waugh were concerned with structures of age-old history and prestige-notably Catholicism (Waugh) and China (Acton)-that they felt outweighed the innovations of modernism and made the modern aesthetic spirit seem clumsy, if not painfully late.

The full article can be read at this link.

 

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Roundup: Oxford, Metro-Land and Commandos

The Times has a review of the recent book about Waugh and the Oxford-based Hypocrites Club, entitled Hellfire. See previous posts. This is reviewed by Daisy Dunn who opens with a well written summary of some of the book’s high points. Here are some excerpts of her assessment of the book:

…Does such a short-lived social club warrant a biography? While several of the Hypocrites went on to become very famous — Waugh, Anthony Powell and the Party Going novelist Henry Green for example — they hardly owed their success to their club membership alone. They wrote relatively little about it, not because it was secretive, but because, in all honesty, there was not very much to say. […] Fleming attempts to get round this by shifting quickly from the student club to the grown-up lives of the Hypocrites. He follows them into publishing houses and newspaper offices, into London parties and terraces, down aisles and back up them, and finally into the Second World War. […]

It seems inadvertent that, in drawing attention to the successes of the Hypocrites, Fleming also undermines them. His book illustrates brilliantly just how lazy and overindulged several of these characters were. Most went down from Oxford with no degree or secured a lousy third. […] Some of the Hypocrites were certainly ambitious. […] But it was almost as though these men grew too enervated in their darting passions to see anything through in their youth. They didn’t always amount to very much. […]

This is a pacey and colourful read and, with the exception of the occasional anachronism (it is bizarre to refer to Waugh wearing “an Andy Warhol shock blond wig” in 1924 when the artist wasn’t born until 1928), elegantly written. Whether or not you feel the book represents yet another indulgence of a group that never quite merited the attention may well depend on your tolerance for monocles and tweed.

Dunn herself recently wrote a book about interwar Oxford, but it dwelt on more elevated and serious academic circles. This is entitled Not Far From Brideshead and has been described in previous posts.

–An earlier edition of The Times mentions Waugh in a different context. This is in an unsigned leading article that marks the centenary of Marcel Proust’s death. It is written in the form of a page-long Proustian paragraph from which this excerpt has been taken. It describes his major work:

…which is about 15 times the length of an average novel, comprising the epic text of a writer whom Graham Greene considered “the greatest novelist of the 20th century” although Evelyn Waugh did call him “insane” and more recently Kazuo Ishiguro described his work as crushingly dull, presumably because the narrator is a pretentious snob given to micro-analysing a life in which nothing happens… 

The Times received the following letter in response to the aforesaid leading article:

Sir, For some very peculiar reason your leading article on the standing of Marcel Proust in this, the centennial of his death (Nov 11), cites Evelyn Waugh’s view of him as “insane”. What in fact he wrote to Nancy Mitford was: “I am reading Proust for the first time in English of course and am surprised to find him a mental defective. No one warned me of that. He has absolutely has no sense of time.” Proust suffered from all sorts of ailments, but dyschronometria wasn’t one of them. Waugh’s claim is not simply stupidly offensive but symptomatic of a certain provincial way with Proust. The Times seems to have opted for his company. Prof Christopher Prendergast King’s College, Cambridge

The letter was posted in the 12 November 2022 edition.

–Historian and TV presenter Dominic Sandbrook writing in the Financial Times has an article entitled “Revisiting Metro-land: is the future suburban?” In this he considers the centenary of the area to which “the Metropolitan Railway lured home buyers to a suburban paradise on London’s fringes.”  This mostly revolves around the works of John Betjeman who praised the area both in his books and poems and on TV. But Waugh (who was less enamored of the area) also gets a look-in:

Even at the time, critics found Metro-land laughably fake–a British equivalent of the Disney World residential communities that followed. As early as 1928 Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel Decline and Fall featured an intolerably stuffy politician who is ennobled as Viscount Metroland. Six years later, the composer Constant Lambert mocked “the hideous faux bonhomie of the hiker, noisily wading his way through the petrol pumps of Metroland, singing obsolete sea chanties with the aid of the Week-End Book, imbibing chemically flavoured synthetic beer under the impression that he is tossing off a tankard of ‘jolly good ale'”

The Imaginative Conservative reposts a 2011 article by Daniel McCarthy entitled “Books That Make Us Human”. This includes:

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh – His first and by no means his best novel, but it captures so much of the human experience:  how it feels to be young, to be at once ambitious and fearful for one’s career, to suffer reversal and suddenly achieve one’s dreams. Possibility, uncertainty, love. You could give this to a Martian and he would begin to understand what these human beings are like.

–Finally, for those interested in the subject of the WWII SAS and Commando units as depicted in the ongoing BBC drama series SAS Rogue Heroes (featured in a recent post), the BBC has reposted an earlier three-episode documentary on the same subject. This is narrated by Ben Macintyre based on his same book that inspired the drama series. It is somewhat confusingly entitled SAS: Rogue Warriors and is available on BBC iPlayer through the end of November. A UK internet connection is required.

UPDATE: A letter to The Times regarding the Proust leading article was posted in the 12 November issue of the paper and was added to this roundup.

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Roundup: Books Listed, Reviewed and Revisited

–The Daily Telegraph has a review of the new book by David Fleming entitled Hellfire: Evelyn Waugh and the Hypocrites Club. This was published in the UK last month as noted in a recent post. The review is by Nikhil Krishnan and begins with this:

Oxford has never been short of drinking clubs. Why does this one so short-lived deserve as lengthy a biography as David Fleming has given them? There is to start with the fact that the club counted as members three novelists of great originality (Evelyn Waugh, Henry Green and Anthony Powell) and one man with a claim to be the 20th century’s greatest travel writer, Robert Byron. There were others–Brian Howard and Harold Acton–who never quite delivered on their early literary promise but did their bit for modern literature by providing Waugh with the inspiration for Anthony Blanche, the memorable camp aesthete from Brideshead Revisited.

But is this enough to justify revisiting much visited literary territory yet again? Fleming proposes that the Hypocrites were special. Although they ran the political gamut from “bone-dry Conservative” (Waugh) to “firmly on the left” (the journalist Claud Cockburn), they had in common a sensibility: independent-minded, rebellious, argumentative and intolerant of cant. […]

After discussing several of the book’s themes and noting that the “editorial apparatus is disappointingly sparse”, Krishnan concludes:

Fleming’s prose is, at best, workmanlike, unflashy and blandly informative. Nearly every quotation has the inevitable effect of making the lack of distinction in his own prose painfully apparent, but that is the occupational hazard of a literary historian.

The book will also be reviewed in an upcoming issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.

–Emily Temple writing in Literary Hub has made a list of the top 60 “campus novels”. Here’s her definition and selection criteria:

..to keep you company as the cold weather descends, here is a list of the greatest academic satires, campus novels, and boarding school bildungsromans in the modern canon.

I limited my selections to one per author (though I made an extra note here and there, and a set or two may have slipped in) and I excluded anything written for children (or the magic schools would overwhelm), though boarding schools in general are allowed. Finally, my obligatory caveat that not every campus novel that anyone has ever loved is included here, lists and time both being finite and literature being subjective, but please feel free to add on in the comments section.

Her Waugh selection is Decline and Fall:

A novel in which events are set in motion by a trouser theft and subsequent streaking and even subsequenter expulsion? No one does satire like Waugh. See also: Brideshead Revisited, the most famous (and best) campus novel that is actually mostly not a campus novel at all.

Entertainment Weekly has compiled a list of the 25 best Hollywood novels. Waugh’s The Loved One is included:

A little Six Feet Under here, some Golden Age romanticizing there, and you’ve got Evelyn Waugh’s crackling The Loved One. A poet and pet mortician becomes enraptured by the golden gates and paradise aesthetic of Whispering Glades Memorial Park, located in the heart of Los Angeles, where he falls into a bizarre love triangle.

–John Self in The Critic has produced a thoughtful reconsideration of the works of Kurt Vonnegut. As he sees it, Vonnegut is one of several novelists who is best known for the wrong book–in his case Slaughterhouse-Five:

If Mother Night and Cat’s Cradle are the early peaks of Vonnegut’s work, later in the decade he would produce one combining science fiction and war that masquerades as a peak, but is really the beginning of the journey down the other side. Like Evelyn Waugh, Kazuo Ishiguro and Charlotte Brontë (among many others), Vonnegut is famous for the wrong book.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) remains his most popular book, and in a way you can see why. It takes a serious subject — war and the bombing of Dresden — and makes it funny, in fact twists it out of shape with a hero who becomes “unstuck in time”, has future flashbacks and travels to a planet called Tralfamadore.

Yet I can only agree with the ur-critic, John Carey, who categorises it among those books “that gain their power from their subjects more than their writing”. The book saw Vonnegut placed as an anti-war satirist alongside Joseph Heller, another member of the famous-for-the-wrong-book club, whose Catch-22 had been published at the beginning of the decade.

In Waugh’s case Self presumably assumes the wrong book is Brideshead Revisited.

–Finally, the New York Times reviews a selection of diaries and photos of the Rome-based, US-born photographer Milton Gendel. This is entitled Just Passing Through. After explaining Gendel’s somewhat eclectic career, the review notes his acquaintanceship with several writers:

More public writers are observed concisely and without mercy, both their work and their personalities. Of Muriel Spark: “She is a bag fumbler.” On “Portnoy’s Complaint,” by Philip Roth: “It is brilliant. But caricatural and pseudo-literary,” with “comic strip characters.” Evelyn Waugh is held to account for his “bitchy right-wingery and his vein of anti-Semitism,” even as Gendel fraternizes with his eldest son, Auberon. Graham Greene is deemed a “brilliant tightrope walker edging between God and his grubby little creatures” but nonetheless compares unfavorably to Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Gendel would have encountered Waugh on one or more of the latter’s several trips to Rome in the 1950-60s where Gendel’s wife was a friend of Diana Cooper. See previous post.

 

 

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Waugh at Hertford

Hertford College, Oxford has posted on YouTube an excerpt from a recent presentation at the college to a group of its alumni assembled in the college chapel. The excerpt is the opening of the presentation by the college Principal, Tom Fletcher, and relates to a fundraising campaign called Hertford 2030. The prime goal of this is the construction of a new library for the college at a cost of £16m. You may not learn all of this from the excerpt itself, but it may help you to put things into context.

The Principal opens the presentation by reminding those assembled that this year marks the 100th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s matriculation at the college in Hilary Term 1922. See previous post. To that end he provides a brief summary of Waugh’s career at Hertford, noting that he probably spent relatively little time in the library. It is an amusing and well-presented talk, although somewhat oversimplified in some respects. For example, he notes that Waugh did so poorly on his finals that he “didn’t bother to pick up his degree.”

That is a correct statement but somewhat misleading. The reason that Waugh did not “pick up” his third class degree was that the college cancelled his scholarship. As explained in the previous post, this was due to the fact that he had done so poorly on his exams. Given his substantial unpaid debts, his father refused to pay the costs of the final term at Oxford. Residence during that term (which would have been his 9th) was required to meet university degree qualifications. Waugh was looking forward to spending that term at Oxford and had even booked a flat on Merton Street (outside of Hertford College) which he would have shared with Hugh Lygon.

The presentation also mentions Waugh’s membership in the Hypocrites Club and his animosity toward his tutor CRMF Cruttwell, who later became the college Principal. The present incumbent concludes by wondering how Waugh might respond to issues facing students today such as wider access to Oxford and climate change. Here is a link to the 11 minute presentation.

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BBC WWII Commando Series

The BBC has scheduled the broadcast of a 6-part docudrama series on the WWII Commandos. This will focus on the SAS, which was the brainchild of Commando David Stirling with whom Waugh was serving in 8 Commando in 1941. Here are excerpts of the story from the Daily Telegraph:

When Steven Knight decided to create his latest TV show SAS Rogue Heroes he pledged to honour the history of how the Special Air Service was born, rather than making it “try to fit fiction”.

Yet as Mr Knight, the Peaky Blinders creator, delved deeper into the history of this elite regiment that was formed in the deserts of North Africa during the Second World War, he discovered true stories that were so outlandish he had to change the narrative in order to make them seem plausible.

And so the six-part BBC series begins with the disclaimer that while the following is “based on a true story” the events shown “which seem most unbelievable… are mostly true”. […]

Mr Knight confirmed that “the regiment itself has given us a nod of approval” for the series.

It comes after the BBC placed a “trigger” warning for moderate violence on the show’s one-minute trailer which features explosions and a soldier being jokingly pushed out of the back of a lorry.

The programme is based on the book by journalist and historian Ben MacIntyre, which he wrote after gaining access to previously classified SAS documents and diaries.

It explores how a group of fearless soldiers and officers came together to form a new unit, which was built around Stirling’s idea of parachuting into the desert.

However, Stirling’s first experiment with the parachute was a flop, as Knight explained there was lots of “failure and disaster” in the early days of the regiment’s formation.

Yet, it was their curiosity that made them so unique in their ability to continue in the face of adversity.

“It seems to me that soldiers obey orders mostly and don’t know why they are doing it, but what was different about the SAS was they said to ask why, question the order and had their own ideas,” Knight added.

One of the most pertinent elements Mr Knight took away from his research on Stirling, who died in 1990, was how he and his fellow men did not fear death.

He explained that the secretary who worked with Stirling for 30 years told him that when Stirling used to leave the office in the 1970s, he would close his eyes when he crossed the main road. “He’s in his early 60s and he still wants the possibility of death,” Mr Knight said.

He added that he hoped the series inspires people “who feel they are excluded and not right for society and that kind of thing”.

Mr Knight described the founding members of the SAS as being the “people who stepped up”, adding “this is a tribute to them”.

The BBC’s History Magazine has also reposted a 2016 story about David Stirling’s efforts to create the smaller SAS squads out of the larger Commando units. This explains:

Among Stirling’s fellow commando officers were the novelist Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill, the Prime Minister’s son. Shipped to the Middle East in early 1941, the Commandos spent several frustrating months launching a series of largely unsuccessful seaborne raids against German and Italian targets in Libya, Syria and Crete.

Waugh was still in 8 Commando when he was serving in Crete during 1941 and remained in some version of that unit until later in 1943 when they shipped out to the Mediterranean without him.  The embarkation coincided with his father’s death. Bob Laycock, who was his commanding officer, refused to approve Waugh’s rejoining the unit overseas after his bereavement leave (although in some reports Laycock had already decided to leave Waugh behind when the unit departed).  Waugh then ran up against commanding officers in the UK who were less forgiving of his faults than Laycock.  He resigned from the Commandos in July 1943 after having been ordered to report for basic training by Shimi Lovat.

He drifted around Windsor with the Royal Horse Guards but contacted Bill Stirling (brother of David) seeking a position in the SAS. He had met Bill in Scotland during his earlier Commando training. Bill Stirling had Waugh assigned to an SAS unit with Christopher Sykes in late 1943. While doing parachute training in that unit, he injured his leg (cracked fibula). While he was recuperating, he decided that he could better spend his time writing the novel he had been contemplating than pursuing his flagging military career. His superiors were only too happy to comply. Just as he was delivering the text of the novel (Brideshead Revisited) to the publisher, Randolph Churchill invited him to join a special mission to Yugoslavia which he readily accepted.

It is not entirely clear what Waugh’s service in the SAS would have entailed had he not suffered the injury during parachute training. But according to the reports of the BBC series, the SAS were active in France during and after the Normandy Landings, particularly in disrupting German supply lines which often involved parachute drops behind German lines. In his war memoirs (Four Studies in Loyalty, London, 1946), Christopher Sykes describes parachuting into the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France with his SAS unit in late August 1944. This was in advance of the Allied invasion of that area (expected during September) and was intended to allow the SAS to make contact with the local French resistance to aid that invasion.

This invasion was unexpectedly delayed until November and during their time behind the lines, the SAS unit, although supported by the local Maquis, was frustrated in its efforts to organize an offensive operation while remaining under cover in the forests. By mid-October the Germans had discovered enough about their whereabouts and activities to render them useless, and, according to Sykes, they were ordered to retreat back across the American lines. In the course of that action, their 92-man unit lost one killed in action and 29 taken prisoner, of whom all but one were killed in captivity. Just as well Waugh fractured his leg a year earlier and was dispatched to Yugoslavia.

A recent book entitled David Stirling: The Phoney Major by Gavin Mortimer has developed the idea that it was David’s brother Bill Stirling and his colleague Paddy Mayne who were the brains beyond the successful creation and operation of David’s  SAS concept of smaller hit-and-run units. This is described in greater detail in a previous post. Indeed, David was a POW from early in 1943 until the end of the war so was unavailable to contribute to later iterations of the SAS that saw action in the invasions of Italy and France. The conclusions of Mortimer’s book seem to run counter to the descriptions of the BBC series’ plot, but it is mentioned in the History Magazine posting. The hardcover version of Mortimer’s book had its UK release in June and will be published in the US on 22 November (a Kindle version was released in June in both the US and UK). Link to US edition here.

The BBC One series SAS Rogue Heroes will be broadcast beginning Sunday, 30 October at 9pm. All episodes will be available immediately thereafter for streaming on BBC iPlayer with a UK internet connection. Here’s the conclusion from an advance review of the series in the Financial Times:

The series will undoubtedly further fuel our nostalgic nation’s propensity for turning the second world war into the stuff of legend. It might elicit eye-rolls for its use of brash gimmicks. But the show’s spirit of adventure proves hard to resist, and there have been few scenes on TV this year as jolting and immersive as the mission sequence which opens the third episode.

Ultimately, SAS Rogue Heroes has the makings of another hit for Knight and the BBC. Don’t be surprised to see men trading in their Blinders flat caps for military berets before too long.

 

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