The rise of toytown pop

Pop’s counterfactuals tend to be built on questioning mortality: what if Jimi Hendrix had lived? Or Buddy Holly? Rarely does geopolitics enter into the speculation. Nevertheless, there’s a case for arguing that the landscape of British pop would have been markedly different had Harold Wilson acceded to the wishes of President Lyndon Johnson and sent

Arts feature

Woman to woman

Bump to bump they stand: Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, both pregnant, both apple-cheeked and glowing as expectant mothers should be. It is a moment of shared joy. The whispered intimacy of ‘I’m pregnant!’ ‘Me, too!’ Joseph and Zacharias stand sheepish in the background, as men do on such occasions. Joseph has more reason than

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National Army Museum

I used to love the National Army Museum in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, which was crammed with the memorabilia of four centuries of the British Army. I even visited it on the morning of my wedding. It taught you about the history of the British Army in a completely non-political way, allowing the objects —

Scarlet women

A Covent Garden barfly was scanning her programme during the first interval: ‘Oh yes, the one about the gynaecologist.’ She meant Strapless, of course, an attempt to tell the back story to John Singer Sargent’s ‘Portrait of Madame X’, which scandalised the Paris Salon of 1884. ‘Madame X’ was Amélie Gautreau, a Creole beauty who


Army surplus

Georg Büchner, a justly neglected German playwright, died at the age of 23 leaving a half-finished script about a mad soldier and his cheating girlfriend. This relic has fascinated dramatists ever since because Büchner is regarded as a visionary left-wing artist cruelly stolen before his time. (Not a moment too soon, if you ask me.)


Music matters | 1 June 2017

The ancient Greeks had a word for it —katabasis, descending into the depths, to the underworld itself, in search of answers. To cross the threshold between life and death, innocence and knowledge, the everyday and what lies beyond, is an act woven through art, resurfacing in each generation. For Orpheus, and for Monteverdi, the journey


Heaven knows they’re miserable now | 1 June 2017

On the face of it, the two new big drama series of the week don’t have a great deal in common, with one set in a determinedly present-day Britain, the other in a dystopian American future. What they do share, though, is a general air of classiness, some impressively understated central performances and, above all,


Dealer’s choice

One evening a few weeks ago I was on my way to the opening of an exhibition at the Venice Biennale when I stopped for a moment in a quiet campo off the main drag. An elderly priest was standing on the steps of the church of Santa Maria della Fava in the weak sunshine.


Comic relief | 1 June 2017

In such times as these, enough to try a man’s soul, a dose of John Finnemore is advisable. His brand of comedy, as fans of Cabin Pressure will know, makes you laugh out loud (unlike, I fear, a lot of the programmes in that 6.30 p.m. slot on Radio 4). His quirky stabs at the