David starkey

The political cunning of Elizabeth II: BBC1’s The Longest Reign – The Queen and Her People reviewed

In all the tributes to Her late Majesty’s constancy, dignity, wisdom and devotion to duty, not enough has been said about her political cunning. But BBC1’s The Longest Reign: The Queen and Her People made a compelling case that Elizabeth II knew just how to tilt the balance. When she toured the new towns of the 1950s (see image), waving at the crowds with their little Union Flags and taking tea with the young families on the just-built housing estates, she was giving her wordless blessing to the welfare state. When she wanted to bolster the No side in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, her intervention – commenting to a

Diary – 16 May 2019

There are many places where a gay Jewish couple wearing yarmulkes wouldn’t feel comfortable walking down the street. I didn’t think west London was one of them. Ambling along Edgware Road to a wedding at the West London Synagogue, however, my partner feels something land on his jacket. At first, he believes it is bird dropping. Closer examination reveals the white gob to be human spittle. Later, we tell a friend, Harry Cole of the Mail on Sunday, who tweets about it. The Sky News presenter Adam Boulton replies: ‘No excuse but it is a Middle Eastern quarter.’ He later apologises. Perhaps we should have known better than to don

Diary – 19 July 2018

It was blessedly cool inside the Romanesque nave, its massive arches resisting the heat as they had done everything else that history had thrown at them in the past thousand years. Through the great west doors, which had been left open for ventilation, I could glimpse the ruins of the adjacent Norman castle, bleached white by the intense sunshine. In front of me were the serried ranks of prep school pupils at their speech day and I was presenting the prizes. The boys were in blazers; the girls in boaters and the staff were gowned. The head opined sensibly and the dean prayed. The organ thundered; the choir sang exquisitely

High life | 30 June 2016

The two most beautiful words in the history of the world, in any language, are ‘Molon labe’, the accent on the second syllable of both words, the ‘b’ pronounced ‘v’ in the second. These two little words were the laconic answer of King Leonidas of Sparta to the offer made by the great Persian king Xerxes of not only safe passage, if the Greeks laid down their arms, but also a settlement of lands of better quality than any they currently possessed. You know what I’m talking about. The Hot Gates, or Thermopylae in Greek. The year is 480 BC, the month is August, and the Persians number more than

In defence of conceptual art

At the tail end of last year, an artist called Peter Goodfellow mounted an exhibition of paintings titled Treason of the Scholars. The works were a garish parody of the signature styles of blue-chip artists including Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Joseph Beuys — not so much satire as aggravated assault. In terms of nuance, it made the giant inflatable butt plug artist Paul McCarthy had installed in Paris’s Place Vendôme in 2014 look subtle. But that, Goodfellow stressed, was precisely the point. His complaint, he wrote in an accompanying essay, was that the ‘charlatans’ of the contemporary art establishment had come to neglect his medium in favour of figures

Simon Schama’s migration muddle

Sooner or later, in this trade, one runs out of television historians to antagonise. I am doggedly working my way through the pack — and I don’t think any of the really big ones are left. I began by annoying Mary Beard and then swiftly moved on to David Starkey. Some time passed but eventually I found an opportunity to irritate Simon Schama, on BBC’s Question Time last week. He got very angry and his hands started waving all over the place. Someone on a social media site said he looked like a Thunder-birds puppet controlled by a person with Parkinson’s disease, which is a little cruel, I suppose. Simon ended

Letters | 27 August 2015

Trimming the ermine Sir: I am a new boy in the House of Lords compared with Viscount Astor — though I did hear Manny Shinwell speak — but he is right that it is bursting at the seams, and something needs to be done about it (‘Peer review’, 22 August). I detect signs of a consensus that the right number of peers is about 450. It is 782 at the moment. In the 16 divisions since the election, the largest number of peers voting was 459. The Lords values its crossbenchers and if their number were set at one fifth of the total, that would yield 90 on this figuring.

David Starkey defends his comments comparing the SNP to the Nazis

Over the weekend, David Starkey caused outrage in Scotland when he compared the SNP to the Nazis. While the SNP MP Kirsten Oswald was quick to dismiss Starkey as a ‘serial utterer of bile and bilge’, others called for an apology from the historian. So, how did Starkey feel this morning having had time to reflect on his comments? Turns out, he didn’t feel all that different. Answering a question on Sky News about whether he regretted his comments, Starkey said he did not, explaining that he stood by what he had said: Starkey said the SNP were a ‘virulently nationalist party’ and blamed political correctness for the backlash: ‘It’s time we call things

Why are people venerating Richard III? He was a murderous tyrant

Imagine if the body of a notorious child killer was exhumed and that, during the week of its reinterment, 35,000 people thronged the streets of a major UK city to respectfully watch the passing of the specially designed coffin and, with hopeful hurls, bedeck that coffin with white roses. The funeral procession itself is led by two knights in full medieval armour. Then people queue for four hours to file pass the coffin in a cathedral while the prayers of the highest ecclesiastics of the land who officiate over the solemn, ceremonial proceedings are communicated across the country. Not very likely, is it? Well, that’s what has been happening this

History is the art of making things up. Why pretend otherwise?

In a recent interview, the celebrity historian and Tudor expert David Starkey described Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as a ‘deliberate perversion of fact’. The novel, he said, is ‘a magnificent, wonderful fiction’. listen to ‘David Starkey on Wolf Hall’ on audioBoom But if Oxford has taught me one thing, it’s that all the best history is. Starkey is a Cambridge man, and maybe they do things differently there. But any perceptive Oxford undergraduate will soon realise that a little bit of fiction is the surest way to a First. What the admissions material opaquely describes as ‘historical imagination’ turns out to be an irregular verb: I imagine, you pervert the

Paul McCartney telling me to vote No makes me want to vote Yes

‘Scotland, stay with us!’ David Bowie declared back in February. And what Bowie says (or doesn’t, quite – attentive readers will remember that he got Kate Moss to say it for him) others parrot. A few days ago, Sir Paul ‘Macca’ McCartney added his name to an open letter urging the people of Scotland to join the Bowie bandwagon. He was late to the party – the other signatories make up a bizarre (and almost entirely English) cross-section of the British entertainment establishment, from Simon Cowell to David Starkey to Cliff Richard. An impressive love-in, then. But it begs the question: will it actually swing any votes? As a young-ish

Sex! Soap! Starkey! The Tudor invasion of British television

The Tudors have invaded television. Everywhere you look, it’s Henry VIII this, Henry VII that, Anne Boleyn this, Anne of Cleves that. On BBC2 is the continuing drama series The Tudors, whose Henry VIII looks like the lead singer in a boy band who’s stumbled on to the wrong film set. At any moment, you expect him to announce the execution of Anne Boleyn with those jabbing-the-air hand gestures that boy-band members use to semaphore emotion. Lushly soap operatic, The Tudors depicts the royal court not so much as a place of high political intrigue but as a hearth for dynastic family troubles where improbably good-looking people have lots of

Starkey’s right: his fellow Question Time panellists don’t know the meaning of ‘struggle’

Great stuff from David Starkey on BBC Question Time last night, hammering away at Harriet Harman, David Dimbleby, Victoria Coren and Shirley Williams for having attained their current positions in society with considerable assistance from their famous and influential (and of course loaded) parents. Yes, precisely; it is pretty much the same every week. Starkey made the point that it is the left which does this sort of thing most often, although I think – looking at the cabinet and the staffing of Number 10 Downing Street – that he would be hard pressed to maintain that point. But nonetheless, he is right that the left does it too and