The story behind Kidnapped

Sir: Not withstanding my gratitude for Andro Linklater’s kind words in his recent review of my book Birthright: The True Story That Inspired ‘Kidnapped’ (Books, 27 February), I must correct his description of the subtitle as ‘simply wrong’.

It is inconceivable that Stevenson, a voracious reader of legal history, was unfamiliar with the saga of James Annesley, which by the time of Kidnapped’s publication in 1886 had already influenced four other 19th-century novels, most famously Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering (1815) and Charles Reade’s The Wandering Heir (1873). As I note in Birthright, a review of Kidnapped in the Athenaeum (London) of 14 August 1886 pointedly observed: ‘Of both Guy Mannering and Kidnapped the main action was suggested by the Annesley case, that marvellous romance of real life… And no doubt it may be said that in [David] Balfour’s struggle with old Ebenezer there is nothing so improbable as the real struggle of Annesley with his wicked uncle, and that Annesley’s adventures in the plantations… surpass in wonderfulness any of the chances, escapes, and disasters that befell Balfour.’

This is not to deny the obvious importance of historical events in Scotland, notably the Appin murder, to Stevenson’s classic adventure story. But just as clearly, Annesley’s ordeal afforded a template for Kidnapped, which, not coincidentally, involved the dramatic abduction of a fatherless heir by a villainous uncle for the purpose of usurping the lad’s patrimony. Then, too, both boys were consigned to servitude in the American colonies, though the fictional Balfour manages to escape after his ship wrecks off the Scottish coast, and ultimately he succeeds in reclaiming his inheritance; whereas young Annesley, in real life, first endured 12 years of indentured servitude before returning to Ireland to bring his Uncle Dick, the Earl of Anglesea, to justice.

A. Roger Ekirch
By email

Mugabe’s victory

Sir: There was an election in Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979 (‘Three decades of murder and misrule’, 27 February) but Mugabe did not take part. That election was won by Bishop Abel Muzorewa and his UANC party, who then entered into government together with Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front, under what was touted as the ‘internal settlement’. In reality, the Rhodesian Front’s commitment to sharing power was highly questionable. Muzorewa exercised no real authority, and the violence and economic collapse worsened. The election which brought Mugabe to power took place ten months later in February 1980.

Muzorewa, thinking he could share power with his erstwhile opponents, disappeared into political oblivion. Tsvangirai and the MDC, having made the fundamental error of thinking they can share power with Mugabe, face the distinct possibility of sharing Muzorewa’s fate.

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Alan Doyle
London

Organs of authority

Sir: I agree with Charles Moore that it is wrong that groups such as the RSPCA are treated as ‘organs of public authority’ and have a ‘quasi-police role’ (The Spectator’s Notes, 20 February). Recently the dog handler PC Mark Johnson of Nottinghamshire Police was convicted for leaving two police dogs in his car, where they died of heatstroke. After the discovery of the two dead dogs, Nottinghamshire Police inexplicably handed the entire matter over to the RSPCA, rather than the CPS, who then prosecuted PC Johnson. When PC Johnson was found guilty, an ‘officer’ from the RSPCA appeared on the local news, dressed in a peaked cap and with pips on his shoulder, to comment on the case. He was dressed more smartly than the assistant chief constable next to him.

Tom Randall
Nottingham

Football’s finances

Sir: Your cover article (‘The deflating world of English football’, 20 February) covers the financial situation affecting British football well. But this is only one element in the demise of the game and ultimately its loss of integrity. The days when local teams were filled with local players and supported by a mostly working-class fan base have sadly gone forever. We now have foreign players, foreign-owned clubs, and a smattering of the traditional fan base. Some say Sky is responsible. It was probably the catalyst, but the change was going to happen anyway. I remember as a student in Leeds in the 1980s asking one of my lecturers why he was not a Leeds fan. He replied, ‘I stopped supporting football when they started kissing each other after they scored.’

Carlo Horner
By email

Sir: I was riveted by your article on football finances. What a story. A group of rich and mostly foreign investors take advantage of the UK’s liberal (for some) policing of the free-market to build impossible dreams on mountains of debt. The giant pyramid of imaginary money eventually collapses, threatening to bring down with it the whole system. But rather than face reality, the game’s directors prefer to continue borrowing their way into oblivion. Isn’t that the financial history of modern Britain in microcosm?

Peter Bramble
Essex

Gongs away

Sir: Well done Lloyd Evans for putting the boot so firmly into award ceremonies (Arts, 27 February). What boring, preposterous events they are. The funny thing, however, is that even though I can’t stand these rituals of mutual congratulation, I find it impossible ever to turn off the television when an awards show is on.

Hugo Sabin
London W14

Don’t rock the boat

Sir: In his excellent review of the politics of Richard Curtis’s films (‘Spin, Actually’, 20 February), Stephen Pollard neglects to mention one film — and its telling omission. Curtis’s film about pirate radio, The Boat that Rocked, does not tell us who it really was that banned the pirates. Not the vindictive civil servant of the film, but a Labour government, and everybody’s favourite lefty granddad in particular, Tony Benn. Why leave that out, I wonder?

Tony Painter
Ipswich

How to insure your thatch

Sir: If your house happens to be thatched (‘Mutual satisfaction’, 13 February) most insurers treat you as a dangerous and extravagant eccentric and bump up your premiums accordingly. The NFU, historically more literate, don’t.

Patrick Pender-Cudlip
Somerset

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated