The judge had led quite a sheltered life

Like Carman, the Honourable Sir Joseph Donaldson Cantley was from Manchester. But that was just about all they had in common. Far from having a rackety private life, Cantley was rumoured to have been a virgin until the age of fifty-six, when he had married the widow of a former judge. Marriage had done nothing to dispel his air of unworldliness. Cantley had once tried a case in which a 23-year-old man had applied for damages after being badly injured in a bulldozer accident. Told that the injuries had affected the man’s sex life, he asked if he was married. Learning that he was not, a puzzled Cantley said, “Well, I can’t see how it affects his sex life.”

John Preston, “A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment”.

Posted in Class, History, Notebook | Tagged , ,

The man who had too much of everything

robin williams bk rev pic

Talent being at the top of the list. From my Times review of a weighty new account of the rise and fall of the genius that was Robin Williams:

The warning signs were there that moment in the 1970s when Robin Williams, then a star of the Los Angeles stand-up circuit, was signed by the leading talent agency that also handled Woody Allen. Everyone knew that being on its books was a ticket to the big league, but Williams’s wife-to-be, Valerie, felt uneasy when she met the men in suits. “They took me out to lunch, and I’ll never forget this. They said, ‘You are going to be very, very rich. You are not going to have to do anything any more. You can lunch and shop.’ I’ll never forget that. Lunch and shop.”

Money versus creativity: it is the age-old battle. Allen kept the accountants at bay by being his own writer and director. Not having those gifts, Williams was more vulnerable to the whims of the Hollywood machine. So it was that he spent a large chunk of his career doing lucrative work that did little for his reputation. When you reach the final sections of Dave Itzkoff’s conscientious if overlong biography (500-odd pages is 200 too many) you are wading through one forgettable movie after another. How depressing that an actor who had shown us how well he could handle a “straight” role in Awakenings should have been reduced to a supporting role in the Night at the Museum franchise.

Posted in Comedy, Film, Reviews, TV, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

In the know

Insider or outsider? From Robert Verkaik’s new book, “Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Run Britain”:

“Did you go to school?”

The question asked of suspected Old Etonians by Old Etonians.

Posted in Uncategorized

Mayfly season

Posted in Uncategorized

Royal wedding

Windsor, Saturday.

Posted in Uncategorized

Richard Pipes RIP

He wasn’t anywhere near as well known in this country as Orlando Figes, but he should have been. I suppose you could describe him as an intellectual who was wary of a certain kind of intellectual. As he puts it in “The Russian Revolution”:

Although the intelligentsia likes to see itself as selflessly dedicated to the public good, and hence a moral force rather than a social group, the fact of its members sharing common values and goals inevitably means that they also share common interests – interests which may well clash with their professed ideals. The intelligentsia has difficulty admitting this. Its profound aversion for sociological self-analysis – in such contrast to its penchant for analyzing all other social groups and classes, especially its main obstacle to power, the “bourgeoisie” – has resulted in a striking paucity of works on the subject. The sparse literature on the intelligentsia as a social and historic phenomenon is entirely disproportionate to that group’s importance.

Posted in History | Tagged , ,


Posted in Uncategorized


How did “My Dad Wrote A Porno” become an all-conquering global phenomenon? Search me. My review of the Festival Hall version of the erotica-gone-bad podcast:

It is a long time since I have seen an audience in quite such an excited pre-show mood, and during the performance the atmosphere bordered on hysterical. Never mind that the trio aren’t, to a neutral’s eye, particularly quick on their feet; Morton and Cooper are TV industry “creatives” (their word) and Levine is a broadcaster who can do a decent Jennifer Saunders deadpan. Yet perhaps their not being polished performers is what appeals to fans. In one mildly amusing sequence a couple of female volunteers acted out one of Rocky’s typically convoluted clinches to the sound of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. Later, Levine used a chart or two to test the audience’s knowledge of female anatomy. The whole evening hovered around the level of a tipsy dinner party in NW3 or a post-pub quiz on Channel 5. For the first time in my life, I found myself thinking that maybe there is something to be said for Alan Carr.

Posted in Uncategorized

Tom Wolfe RIP

The cover of New York magazine containing that celebrated Radical Chic essay. This superb Michael Lewis profile in Vanity Fair digs through Wolfe’s private archives and explains how he managed to get an invitation to Leonard Bernstein’s Black Panther fundraiser. A great read.

Posted in Uncategorized


Ladysmith Black Mambazo seem to be stuck in a rut. From my review of their Bath Festival concert:

There’s no question that Ladysmith Black Mambazo are a force for good; they are, after all, the singers who provided the soundtrack for the birth of Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation. But Mandela is no longer with us, and the group’s founder, Joseph Shabalala, has retired, although several of his sons help to carry on his legacy. There were still flashes of inspiration in this concert – over the years LBM have crafted an absolutely distinctive a cappella sound, masculine yet surprisingly tender. At its best, the music growls and rumbles like a distant train rolling across the veld.

Still, if anyone thought their much-praised participation in the contemporary dance production, Inala, four years ago might have prompted a rethink about presentation, they would have been disappointed. There’s something to be said for a homespun approach that eschews slickness and lorryloads of lights left over from the Eurovision Song Contest, but the ponderous pacing, the hokey comedy routines and the repetitive displays of high kicking soon grew wearying.

Posted in Africa, Music, Reviews | Tagged ,