Cockles of the Heart

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On quiet nights in the BBC Radio newsroom, a former colleague of mine used to supplement his income by churning out features for an old-fashioned news agency. The agency was more interested in quantity than in-depth research, and one of these features – I forget if my friend was responsible – concerned the alleged extreme […]

One for the Pot?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are two angles to this unusual book, both of great interest. First, however, a word about the authors, Bob Tovey (born in 1938) and his son Brian (born in 1963), who share the chapters between them. They despise education. Bob has only one criminal conviction (for which he was fined a fiver) but he […]

The Great Thinning

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Here are new books by three of Britain’s leading natural history writers. Peter Marren and Michael McCarthy have long been controversialists, increasingly alarmed by the collapse of wildlife populations. Matthew Oates has worked in butterfly protection for forty years, becoming a public expert and adviser to the National Trust. All are well known for their […]

Whipping the Hellespont

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The study of the ancient Persians is, as Richard Stoneman rather artfully puts it, a thriving business. So far from ruling over a ‘forgotten empire’, as a British Museum exhibition unhappily described it a decade back, the Achaemenid emperors – from Cyrus the Great to Darius III – ruled the fastest-growing, largest and most culturally […]

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There is a certain set of topics New Scientist calls ‘fruitloopery’ that experience tells us should be avoided at all costs. The older we become, the more glumly certain we are that we have heard it all before, whether it’s UFOs, Bigfoot, psychic phenomena or even just plain old homeopathy. Atlantis is firmly on this […]

Our Father in Mongolia

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Genghis Khan made the news a dozen years ago when a team of geneticists at the University of Oxford led by Tatiana Zerjal noticed a curious pattern in the distribution of an unusual Y chromosome among Asian males. Zerjal’s team suggested that this genetic variation could be traced back to a common ancestor. They located […]

From the Black Sea to Xinjiang

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In everything except husbands, and especially in literature, my wife’s tastes are exacting. I have devoted years to the effort of crafting an opening sentence good enough to get her to read on. ‘May I,’ I asked experimentally, ‘read you the opening of Peter Frankopan’s new book, to see what you think of it?’ My […]

Getting Fired Up

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Peter Cormack’s magisterial, beautifully illustrated Arts & Crafts Stained Glass is a triumph, the culmination of prolonged research and a development of his pioneering series of exhibitions at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. Victorian and Edwardian glass in Britain has the image of being ubiquitous rather than alluring – despite Martin Harrison’s path-breaking Victorian […]

Palpable Hits

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

These two books, published to coincide with the major Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain (which runs until 25 October), further confirm the stature and fascination of this artist. Like Henry Moore, with whom she is regularly paired, her art is not only represented worldwide but also enshrined in two special places, in her case […]

Though the Open Door

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The art historian and travel writer Michael Jacobs died last year, leaving a literary legacy at once irresistibly idiosyncratic and unobtrusively learned. In particular he wrote uniquely about the nation, culture and history of Spain, where he lived for much of his life and to which he was devoted. It is only proper that his final work should concern a supreme icon of Spanishness, Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas

Sage of Shoreham

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1824 Samuel Palmer met a highly eccentric and little-known artist called William Blake. As Palmer later recalled, ‘He fixed his grey eyes upon me and said “Do you work with fear and trembling?” “Yes, indeed,” “Then you’ll do.”’ This brief exchange has the too-perfect air of careful buffing, but whether or not it happened […]

Against the Grain

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The timing of this book could not be happier. It deals with rebels and subversives who have sought to undermine the cricketing establishment. This summer English cricket has been convulsed by the case of one such individual. Kevin Pietersen is unquestionably the most brilliant and charismatic English batsman of his age, but he has very […]

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The Ice-Breakers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the rarefied world of the Cresta Run, that headlong, terrifying, exhilarating icy descent through St Moritz on little more than a tea tray, Billy Fiske has long been a hero, revered as a magical figure who was not only the fastest runner of his generation but also the one who never crashed. His death […]

The Big Reveal

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The American edition of Naked at Lunch has the title in big upper-case letters, printed as though they were cutouts, windows onto the scene behind, showing a man on a slatted chair that appears to be on a ship. You can see the sea, and the kind of light you get at sea, which has inspired artists for… Okay. I admit it. I could avoid the naked truth forever

Henry the Myth

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Battle of Agincourt has given its name to a ship, a racehorse, a locomotive and several towns in pioneer societies. Today, when you stick two fingers up at someone, it’s supposedly a cultural relic of Agincourt. Yet as a generator of myths, the battle more often than not appears to be sticking two fingers […]

When England Ruled France

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Perfectly timed for the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, the fourth volume of Jonathan Sumption’s epic narrative of the Hundred Years’ War takes the story from Richard II’s death in 1399 to Henry V’s in 1422. The period, as Sumption lucidly explains, is marked by two brutal political assassinations. In 1407, Louis, Duke of Orléans, effectively ruler of France while his brother King Charles VI, a paranoid schizophrenic

Glittering Entries

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Early on in what is, I hope, the first instalment of his autobiography, Frederic Raphael describes how, as a schoolboy at Charterhouse, he disqualified himself from sitting for a closed scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford. A visiting clergyman, preaching in the school chapel, asked the congregation to imagine the young Jesus, trained as a carpenter, […]

Italy in Derbyshire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Desmond Seward has written a revisionist history of those birds of brilliant plumage the Sitwells. It realigns the wicked father of the story, Sir George, as the hero. Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell – the famous trio of siblings – could be generous, but they could also be spiteful, and they traduced nobody more than their […]

Orgasms are Hell

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sixty-five years ago Cyril Connolly reviewed Stephen Spender’s sexually candid and politically unsettling memoirs of his early manhood, World within World, with the intimate knowledge of a literary collaborator. ‘An inspired simpleton, a great big silly goose, a holy Russian idiot, large, generous, gullible, ignorant, affectionate, idealistic – living for friendship and beauty, writing miraculous […]

Like April in Arizona

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For all those keen quivering Nabokovians out there with infinitely deep pockets – are there any other kind? – or perhaps with access to a university library, these are undoubtedly the years of plenty. In 2014 alone, even the most casual short-trousered amateur Nabokovterist armed with a basic butterfly net would have been able to catch Maurice Couturier’s Nabokov’s Eros and the Poetics of Desire, Yuri Leving’s Shades of Laura: Vladimir Nabokov’s Last Novel, Samuel Schuman’s Nabokov’s Shakespeare, and the paperback reissues of Gerard de Vries and D Barton Johnson’s Nabokov and the Art of Painting and Vladimir E Alexandrov’s Nabokov’s Otherworld. Almost forty years after his death there is, it seems, much good Nabokov-hunting still to be had

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