High and mighty | 13 December 2018

In this 200th anniversary of the birth of Mrs C.F. Alexander, author of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, all of us for whom Christmas properly begins when we hear the treble solo of verse one on Christmas Eve should remember her and be thankful. She was born Cecil Frances Humphreys, ‘Fanny’, to a successful land

Arts feature

Birth of a masterpiece

In the early 1370s an elderly Scandinavian woman living in Rome had a vision of the Nativity. Her name was Birgitta Birgersdotter, and she was later venerated as St Bridget of Sweden. In her account of the experience, transcribed by her confessor, she described herself as an eye witness. Her narrative began: ‘When I was

The empress of art

Somewhere in the bowels of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is a portrait from a lost world. Its subject is a beautiful young woman: Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran. The condition of the work, however, a luminous print by Andy Warhol from 1977, is so bad that it could be a

Renaissance man | 13 December 2018

The first thing Gary Kemp bought when Spandau Ballet started making money was a chair. He’s very proud of that chair. He talks about his chair in tones midway between one of Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen and Nicholas Serota. ‘I wasn’t making any money until “True” was successful, in 1983,’ he says. ‘The first thing

More from Arts

Heuberger: Der Opernball

Grade: A– 1898: two Parisiennes and a housemaid secretly invite each other’s partners to the Paris Opera ball and… c’mon, you can guess the rest. It’s Christmas: you don’t want Götterdämmerung. You want luxury, you want tunes and you want irresponsible fun. Richard Heuberger’s waltz-operetta Der Opernball is basically a deluxe box of musical liqueur

Winter wonderland | 13 December 2018

Not another Nutcracker, I thought on the way to the Opera House. Haven’t we had our fill of Sugar Plums? I took my seat, the Grinch of Covent Garden, wondering if we couldn’t have The Winter’s Tale for a change. The lights went down, the orchestra assembled and within six bars of Tchaikovsky’s irresistibly sparkling


Brothers grim | 13 December 2018

Sam Shepard was perhaps the gloomiest playwright ever to spill his guts into a typewriter. The popularity of his work must owe itself to some deep grudge nursed by America’s elite against the redneck states. True West is a standard Shepard ordeal: a pair of damaged, inadequate, bitter, loveless white males are cudgelling each other


Heaven knows we’re miserable now

Jimmy McGovern’s one-off drama Care (BBC1, Sunday 9 December) began with a loving grandmother called Mary having a lovely time with her loving grandchildren. During a laughter-filled visit to the chip shop, she also tested their maths by asking how much their order would cost, and they answered with impressive aplomb. So could it be


Get your skates on

In landscape terms, the Fens don’t have much going for them. What you can say for them, though, is that they’re flat — a selling point for lovers of flat racing. This aspect was not lost on James I when, while out hunting in 1605, he came across the village of Newmarket, and 60 years


There’s something about Mary

So, Mary Poppins returns, and I was, of course, primed to be spiteful, as is my nature. Not a patch on the original. Why did they bother? Why did they imagine it was necessary? Wasn’t the first film practically perfect in every way? Have someone play her who isn’t Julie Andrews? Are you right in


Out of this world | 13 December 2018

Take yourself back to (or try to imagine) Christmas 1968; a year full of disturbances, dashed hopes and extreme violence at home and abroad. On 21 December, a huge explosion occurred; not, for once, a herald of catastrophe but at Cape Kennedy, where the engines of the Saturn V rocket, ‘the most powerful machine ever