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View from the engine room

Most readers probably remember the name Guy Liddell, if at all, as the Fifth Man. Or possibly the Fourth, since we remember the first three, Burgess, Maclean and Philby, but cannot remember the next one, since the name kept on changing between Straight, Hollis and others. Liddell’s death in 1958 was largely un- noticed. He

A dog by the name of Flower

with a foreword by David Hockney and an introduction by Lucinda Lambton It is a well-known fact that artists love dachshunds. Bonnard had Poucette, Picasso Frika, Andy Warhol Archie, and Hockney his Stanley and Boodge. Less often noted is the attraction these adorable creatures have always had for royalty. But simply turn to the magisterial

Grace under pressure

One evening in the Antarctic winter of 1912, some months after all hope of Scott had been given up, the surviving members of his expedition at base camp sat down to vote on their sledging plans for the coming spring. Along the coast to the north of them a party of five men under the

A great ‘campaign’ socialist

Paul Foot, the ‘campaigning’ journalist who died last year and whose funeral attracted a crowd of 2,000 mourners, was a Cornish nonconformist who retrained as a Marxist revolutionary. Had he lived a century ago he would have made a stalwart Liberal member for West Cornwall, savaging the tinmasters. But Foot was condemned by the ideology

Heroes who looked, saw and thought

I imagine that most people, if asked who was responsible for the familiar method of classifying plants and animals into families, genera and species, would name the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Linnaeus. It is true that he named more species than anyone else, but in this magisterial book his work is seen as little more than

Smut from the Warden of Wadham

Like Sir Edward Marshall Hall and the first Lord Birkenhead, Mr Justice Rigby Swift was one of those lawyers around whom stories accrete like barnacles. He was a Lancastrian who stayed what they call ‘true to his northern roots’; barristers referred to him as ‘Rig-ba’ in imitation of his accent. Born in 1874, the same

The character who refused to die

‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’ It could be a fanciful tryst between George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden, but it is something far more auspicious: the first meeting between Sherlock Holmes and his chronicler, John Watson, MD, in 1881. Their friendship spawned many things: worldwide societies, sightseeing tours, commemorative deerstalkers (though Holmes

House-to- house battling

Of all the books on houses and gardens, inside and out, this one takes the cake. Nancy Lancaster was the possessor of those two attributes, difficult to describe but instantly recognisable, of style and charm. Together with her unstoppable energy and plenty of money, she made an indelible impression on one of England’s most envied

The making of a merry myth

Santa can still be a useful adjunct to the winter solstice. If there is a child whom you especially dislike, just ask it quietly what it hopes will be coming down the chimney and the little beast will cringe away, and stay away, in embarrassment. Otherwise Santa’s time is up. He cannot even safely go

By guess and by God

It takes pluck to write about the historical Jesus, not just because doing so always stirs the wrath of hot-headed Christians but because there is not a single ‘fact’ relating to Jesus’s life that cannot be fiercely disputed according to any objective interpretation of the available evidence. Take, for instance, the supposed year of his

Unconventional site- seeing

I know of a man who took his new bride as a honeymoon treat on a tour of the sites where the Yorkshire Ripper had murdered his victims. A curious choice, but she declared herself well pleased with the visit and in particular with the delicious salami sandwiches her husband provided. I remembered this odd

Surprising literary ventures | 17 December 2005

The Devil’s Own Song and Other Verses (1968) by Quintin Hogg The Devil’s Own Song and Other Verses (1968)by Quintin Hogg Yes, that Quintin Hogg, Lord Hailsham of Woolsack fame. ‘Quite suddenly, during the summer of 1940, my personal and emotional situation was such that I felt an irresistible urge to write short lyrics,’ he

The seven ages

A selection from Keeping My Words: An Anthology from Cradle to Grave by Magnus Magnusson (Hodder & Stoughton, £6.99, pp. 280, ISBN 0340862645) What though his head be empty, provided his commonplace book be full?Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), A Tale of a Tub Lord knows what incommunicable small terrors infants go through, unknown to all. We

A bumper crop of Bondage

Here is part of an Evening Standard review of Goldfinger, written when it was first published in 1959 under the untentative title ‘The Richest Man in the World’: ‘The things that make Bond attractive: the sex, the sadism, the vulgarity of money for its own sake, the cult of power, the lack of standards.’ Over