‘Horniman’s Choice’ at the Finborough

You could write the significant history of English theatre in the twentieth century by tracing the careers of three dynamic women: Annie Horniman, Lilian Baylis and Joan Littlewood. Of these, Horniman is probably the least known, but when she took over the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester a hundred years ago, it was the beginning of the regional repertory movement in England. She asked for plays on local themes, and the Manchester School of playwrights was created.

The Finborough Theatre in West London are celebrating Annie Horniman with a programme of four one-act plays that represent the work of three major Manchester authors – Harold Brighouse, Stanley Houghton and Allan Monkhouse. Six actors on a skimpy set do a first-rate job of showing us why the plays matter, and convince us that they are still very much worth watching.

Harold Brighouse’s The Price of Coal, set in a mining village, is theatre as anthropology. Read More »

Billy Bunter versus the Suffragettes

wild women

This November I’ll be giving a talk on the wartime Magnet comics to the Being Young in World War One conference in Manchester. I’ll be arguing that the comics had a nuanced approach to the war, remaining firmly patriotic while suggesting that the demands of war should not make people forget the civilised decencies of peacetime.

The problem with this argument is that on some subjects the Magnet was not very nuanced at all.

I’ve just been reading a copy from earlier in 1914, in which Frank Richards gives his version of the Suffragettes. Read More »

Ernst Junger’s ‘Sturm’

Ernst Junger is best known for his 1920 memoir, Storm of Steel, but he wrote a good deal besides. The publishing firm Telos is issuing translations of several of his works, and the latest, published today, is Sturm, a novella of 1923. Telos kindly let me read the text before publication, and here is my review: Read More »

Lady Chatterley’s biscuits

I mentioned Lady Chatterley a few weeks back, and since then I’ve been thinking about her again. In fact I’ve won a prize with her.
From time to time I enter the Spectator literary competitions, and a recent task was to imagine a scene from a famous novel if it had been sponsored by some brand or other.
I imagined D.H. Lawrence being sponsored by McVitie’s: Read More »

The ‘New Yorker’ gets Kipling wrong

A hundred years ago today, John Kipling died at Loos. The New Yorker has marked the anniversary with an article by Nina Martyris which is not bad till it gets near the end, when she gives us a paragraph that repeats some standard myths, and therefore gets a great deal wrong: Read More »

The Battle of Loos

On September 25th, 1915, the Battle of Loos began. Last year I contributed a short account of the battle as a programme note for Doctor Scroggy’s War at Shakespeare’s Globe, in London. Here it is:

The Battle of Loos

‘Loos was no picnic.’ – Richard Hannay, in John Buchan’s Greenmantle, 1916.

On Saturday 25th September, 1915, Douglas Haig, commander of the British First Army, wrote in his diary: Read More »

On the night that the old cow died

You look for one thing and find another. I was checking a reference in the New Statesman of 1917 (in the pleasant Archive Room of the newly restored Central Reference Library in Manchester), and flicked through the rest of the bound volume to see what else was interesting.
Much was – a grudging review of Wodehouse’s Uneasy Money, for instance (‘Mr Wodehouse has an admirably humorous manner of the thinner sort.’) and one of Goldring’s The Fortune that despite many reservations decided that ‘The deep feeling in the whole book distinguishes it from the mass of novels.’ J.C.Squire (literary editor, and with a weekly column under the pseudonym of ‘Solomon Eagle’) was often interesting, especially about the effect of the war on publishing: Read More »

Who’s the man with the big red nose?

The most enigmatic of the songs collected in F.T. Nettleingham’s Tommy’s Tunes (1917) is, in its entirety, this:


(Click the picture for a better view)

Wondering what this was about, I’ve searched the Internet, and found an Australian drinking song – I think the sort where you have to down the pint before they end the verse: Read More »

The Kipling Journal

Group of officers, Warley
Officers of the Irish Guards, Warley.
John Kipling third from left.

The September Kipling Journal arrived here yesterday. It is a special edition devoted to the theme of Kipling and the Great War, marking the centenary of the death of  John Kipling, at Loos.

It contains a very useful piece by Tonie and Valmai Holt (authors of those first-rate battlefield guides) on Kipling’s own commemoration of John, through his work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and through his History of the Irish Guards in the Great War. The essay does  justice to the huge amount of work that he put into this, and gives an idea of the emotional impact the battlefields had on him. From Rouen cemetery (11,000 graves) he wrote to Rider Haggard of ‘this Dead Sea of arrested lives’. Read More »

Square jaws, trench music and a grim Christmas story


I’m still looking for, and finding,  anecdotes about British soldiers and their songs and music. Here’s a story from The Square Jaw, the English translation of La Mâchoire Carrée (1917), an account of fighting in the British part of the line, by the French journalists Henry Ruffin et André Tudesq. It compresses a lot of the tropes of the trenches into a small space – Singing, communication across No-Man’s-Land, the ‘Hymn of Hate’, the British soldier’s love of sarcastic parody, ritual attacks and counter-attacks, boredom… Read More »


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