The conflicting attitudes towards Philby between the sister services of British intelligence would expose a cultural fault line that predated this crisis, long outlasted it, and persists today. MI5 and MI6 — the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service , broadly equivalent to the FBI and the CIA — overlapped in many respects, but were fundamentally dissimilar in outlook.  MI5 tended to recruit former police officers and soldiers, men  who spoke with regional accents and frequently did not know, or did not care about, the right order to use the cutlery at a formal dinner. They enforced the law, defended the realm, caught spies and prosecuted them. MI6 was more public school and Oxbridge; its accent more refined, its tailoring better. Its agents  and officers frequently broke the laws of other countries in pursuit of secrets, and did so with a certain swagger. MI6 was White’s; MI5 was the Rotary Club. MI6 was upper-middle class (and sometimes aristocratic); MI5 was middle class (and sometimes working class)… Philby’s patronising dismissal of Dick White as “nondescript” precisely reflected MI6’s attitude to its sister service: White, as his biographer puts it,  was “pure trade”, whereas Philby was “establishment”.

Ben Macintyre, “A Spy Among Friends”.

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A love letter to Paris

“Si on t’frappait, j’prendrais les armes…”

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“Neo-realism” was an obligatory first phase for post-war directors who wished to be taken seriously, and some fine films resulted from it… The products of this genre are usually gritty, worthy and well made, shot on the street often with non-professional actors. Yet they are also humourless, comfortless and unglamorous, and they were not very popular with Italians. Working-class people understandably found it more diverting to watch John Wayne fighting “Red Indians” or Charlie Chaplin outwitting huge bullies than to see themselves represented as exploited fishermen in Sicily or Romans so poor that they could not afford a bicycle.

David Gilmour, “The Pursuit of Italy”.

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New reality


Wembley Stadium last night. [Pic via Die Welt]

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Was it jazz? No, not exactly. But Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn turned in a breathtaking display at the London Jazz Festival. Here’s my Times review [£]. Five stars.

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tricolour NT

The National Theatre lit up in memory of the victims of the attacks in Paris.

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Colour blind

Aziz Ansari reflects on Hollywood, race and casting:

To anyone worried it may be “weird” to cast someone a certain way to play a certain part, because it’s not what people are used to, I say: Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s true. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an unsung pioneer for minority actors. Look at “The Terminator”.  There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one’s gonna buy that! We gotta get a robot with an American accent! Just get a white guy from the States! Audiences will be confused. Nope. They weren’t. Because, you know what? None really cares.

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Concert of the week


“Dirty Old Town” was, inevitably, one of the encores. My review [£] of “Blood & Roses”, a celebration of the music of Ewan MacColl. Steve Earle wasn’t present at the Barbican, but he does appear on the excellent new album “Joy of Living”.

He was a curmudgeon and an apologist for Stalin, yet there’s no denying that the man his admirers call “the old bugger” wrote some breathtakingly beautiful songs. It’s a measure of Ewan MacColl’s legacy that his most famous piece, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face — delivered by his spry, 80-year-old widow and collaborator Peggy Seeger — wasn’t even the high point of this remarkable centenary concert.

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Philip Larkin, photographer

“England’s famously provincial and sardonic poet-cum-librarian may not seem the most likely candidate as an early proponent of the selfie.”  The poet and his pictures.

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Derby day


Manchester City vs Manchester United, Maine Road, 1947. [HT @TerraceImages]

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