Larkin and Greyfriars

larkin bunter

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am rarely so enthusiastic as when exploring old issues of the Magnet comic, in which ‘Frank Richards’ each week delivered new instalments of the exploits of Harry Wharton, Billy Bunter and co. at Greyfriars School.
Visiting Hull just in time to catch the deeply enjoyable Philip Larkin exhibition at the Brynmor Jones Library, I was delighted to learn that Larkin was possibly even keener on Greyfriars than I am. Read More »


‘Spy’ by Bernard Newman

The excellent news that came to me this week is that the grandchildren and step-grandchildren of Bernard Newman have taken control of his literary estate, and are engaged on the project of republishing his books.
I have therefore spent two very enjoyable train journeys reading his Spy of 1935.

This tells how he, Bernard Newman, enlisted in 1914 as a motor-cycle dispatch-rider. His skill at speaking German attracted the attention of the authorities, and he became involved in intelligence work. His experience as an actor came in handy, too, as did a flair for disguise. Soon he was on operations behind the German lines, eventually in a privileged position in Ludendorff’s head-quarters, secretly working to demoralise the great German commander and sabotage his plans.

It’s an amazing story. Here is the cover of the Gollancz first edition: Read More »

Housman and Kipling

I’ve recently been reading, with great pleasure, Housman Country by Peter Parker. It is a commentary on A Shropshire Lad, but not the usual kind of critical work. It looks at the book’s origins and influence, with plenty of interesting diversions, many of which are about the poems’ role in the twentieth-century definition of ‘Englishness’, by other poets, by composers, by soldiers, politicians and others. Highly recommended.

When I read the book, my head was fairly full of Kipling, and I started to think about the relation between the two poets. Read More »

‘The Many Lives of Arnold Bennett’ at Keele

The fourteenth annual Arnold Bennett Conference was held at Keele University last weekend, and was an extremely enjoyable affair.

samira ahmed
Samira Ahmed

It began on Friday evening, when Samira Ahmed, the BBC radio and television presenter, gave a public lecture. Her topic was ‘What can Bennett Teach Post-Brexit Britain?’
This was a lively talk, and her enjoyment of Bennett shone through, as she discussed the writer’s qualities, some of which are in short supply these days. Read More »

Galsworthy’s ‘Windows’ at the Finborough

windows finborough

Galsworthy’s 1922 play Windows has not had a professional production for eighty-five years, and I can see why. It’s an uncomfortable play, one designed to make the typical West End audience of its time feel uneasy. Which is what makes it interesting. Those in charge of the Finborough Theatre are once again to be congratulated for finding a forgotten part of the British theatrical heritage, and testing it out on their tiny stage.
The play begins in familiar theatrical territory, in a solid middle-class dining-room in Highgate. French windows look out to the garden, and an upper-middle class family is amusingly at cross-purposes. Johnny Marsh, the son, is an ex-soldier and poet, declaiming his disillusionment rather theatrically, but his sceptical sister is the only person listening to him. Mr March is harrumphing at the state of the world, as revealed by his newspaper and Mrs March is concerned with the practicalities of mutton cutlets for lunch. Read More »

General Kelly and Forester’s ‘The General’

Chief of Staff John Kelly has the reputation of being the most stable figure in President Trump’s chaotic White House. From what one can gather, he has brought a semblance of order and organisation to the place, and has engineered the removal of some of Mr Trump’s more erratic political associates.
Earlier this year, he gave an interview about his favourite book, which is C.S. Forester’s 1935 novel, The General, the story of Curzon, the bone-headed officer who rises up the chain of command by continuously doing the wrong thing and creating disasters as he does everything by the book. General Kelly is not the only thinking soldier to value this book as an guide showing how not to do it. It used to be required reading at Sandhurst. Maybe it still is. Read More »

Kipling the pacifist?

Poems often take on new lives and different identities once they get away from the poet, but Rudyard Kipling might have been rather interested, and maybe even amused, by the annexation of his work by pacifists. Here is an article from the Camden New Journal last week: Read More »

Coming back to Dornford Yates


I read quite a bit of Dornford Yates when I was researching post-war thrillers, but I hadn’t looked at one of his novels for quite a while. Last Saturday, though, I was in the excellent Daisy Lane Books in Holmfirth, and noticed that they had a row of Yateses, so I thought I’d take another look. Read More »

Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War

lewis iwm

The Wyndham Lewis exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North, in Salford, is very good indeed. It is the first I have seen that lays out the whole of Lewis’s career as a visual artist, from art student to Vorticist to war artist to satirist to portraitist to fantasist to blindness. I learned a lot from it, and came to understand this strange and difficult man a little better. Read More »


A few words about upcoming performances, theatrical and literary.

From August 22nd, the ever-enterprising Finborough Theatre will be presenting John Galsworthy’s Windows.

This is a 1922 comedy about post-war Britain and its confusions, and hasn’t been professionally produced for 85 years, apparently. I shall be in London in August and have bought my ticket for the show.  Look out for a review on this site in due course. Read More »