How Britain smashed the slave trade

It was bound to happen sooner or later: a guest on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow presented an artefact which derived from the slave trade – an ivory bangle. One of the programme’s experts, Ronnie Archer-Morgan, himself a descendant of slaves, said that it was a striking historical artefact but not one that he was willing to value. ‘I do not want to put a price on something that signifies such an awful business,’ he said. It’s easy to understand how he feels. The idea of people profiting from the artefacts left over from slavery is distasteful. Yet, as Archer-Morgan said, it is not that the bangle has no value: it

Our great art institutions have reduced British history to a scrapheap of shame

Let’s indulge in some identity politics for a second: I am from Hong Kong, born as a subject of the last major colony of the British Empire, minority-ethnic, descended from Chinese refugees, now living here in exile. This summer, both the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain are presenting new displays that are meant to reflect the ‘inclusive’ and ‘diverse’ identities of Britain. Supposedly, I fit nicely among their target audience. In reality, as an immigrant looking to be included in this nation, I am perplexed by my visits. For two publicly funded museums tasked with telling the story of this country through the portraiture of its eminent figures and

Homage to Hatshepsut – a remarkable female pharaoh

Following on from the volume in which he discussed the Middle Kingdom, John Romer’s new book considers the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom from 1550 BCE to 1070 BCE. This is generally romanticised as one of the great ‘golden ages’ of ancient Egyptian history in which the state reached its pinnacle of power. In this period of increasing prosperity, Egypt established an empire through a series of campaigns under kings such as Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Seti I and Ramesses II. At the beginning of the book, Romer takes us to the site of Tell el-Dab’a in the Nile delta, where excavators upended a whole series of assumptions about the early

Gandhi’s killer is more loveable than his victim: The Father and the Assassin reviewed

Dictating to the Estate is a piece of community theatre that explains why Grenfell Tower went up in flames on 14 June 2017. The abandoned block stands, like a cenotaph, a few minutes’ walk from the social club where the show is presented. The local council never cared much for Grenfell’s 120 families. Plans to destroy the tower and expand the estate – with higher rents, of course – had long been under discussion. A one-bedroom flat in west London goes for half a million pounds so there were profits galore to be made. ‘A gold mine for the council,’ said one developer, ‘and they don’t even have to dig

In praise of Greek royalty

New York Prince Pavlos, heir to the Greek throne, turned 55 recently and I threw a small dinner for him. Pavlos is a hell of a prince, father, husband and businessman. He’s tall, good-looking, a gent in every way, intelligent, hard-working and has never put a foot wrong. Neither has any member of his immediate family. Compared with them, the rest of European royals seem wanting, but then I’m prejudiced. The Greek royals are Danes, and the oldest reigning clan of Europe. Unlike another royal family whose name escapes me – it is the Platinum Jubilee issue after all – the Hellenic one has had no divorces, no scandals, and

The folly of American imperialism

Gstaad Mercedes Benz heir Mick Flick and I have been friends for more than half a century. We both married Schoenburgs, both like the odd drink, both adore the fair sex, and we are now both candidates for a visit from the man in the white suit, yours truly first in line. Mick gave a wonderful dinner the other evening for around 30 of us. It was in his upper chalet, the one that’s half art gallery and half live-in space. He also has a lower chalet for his two sons and daughter. The dinner was seated and the wine was Latour. I think I had two bottles before the

The distortion of British history

The British Museum has announced the appointment of a curator to study the history of its own collections. On the face of it, nothing could be more anodyne. The history of collecting has been a fashionable topic in academic circles for decades. What sort of people collected, why, and how, tells us much about their cultural assumptions and their ways of seeing the world. It would be mildly surprising that the BM has been so slow to catch on – except that there seems more to it than scholarly pursuit of knowledge. While the research will indeed cover ‘wider patterns’ of collecting, the Museum announced that it is ‘likely that

Labour’s revealing support for reparations

The most extreme measure in the entire Labour Party manifesto of 2019 – and this is a high bar – was a pledge that Keir Starmer ought to have disavowed explicitly on day one of becoming leader. It committed a future Labour government to ‘conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy to understand our contribution to the dynamics of violence and insecurity across regions previously under British colonial rule.’ This planned wallowing in national self-abasement was, to my mind, clearly conceived as a precursor to a demand for the payment of reparations by Britain for the excesses of empire. That such an unpatriotic measure made it into

Alan Yentob’s crumbling empire

Weeks before the Kids Company scandal erupted, I had a message from someone deep inside New Broadcasting House saying there were ‘Jones-esque fights’ going on ‘inside the BBC’ about a story which was going to be unpopular with managers. He meant ‘me-esque’: it was a reference to my battle with BBC mandarins about the decision not to show the Newsnight film I had made with Liz MacKean exposing Jimmy Savile as a paedophile a year before he died. That error of judgement and the McAlpine scandal which followed eventually led to the resignation of George Entwistle as director-general. Some involved in the present showdown even feared that, if they persevered,