Pure Puccini: an opera lover’s melodramatic family history

‘If a horse is born in a stable, does it bark like a dog?’ By the time the Duke of Wellington’s famous question (‘If a man is born in a stable, does that make him a horse?’) made its way down to the young Michael Volpe, growing up in a fractured Italian family on the ‘streets and railway tracks… estates and football terraces’ of 1970s west London, it was mangled almost beyond recognition, bent and twisted into a surreal new shape. But the spirit of Wellington’s question remained, burrowing into a boy with one foot in the stable and one beyond, his very name a contradiction of identity: the blandly

Love and loathing at Harold Wilson’s No. 10

If Marcia Williams is thought of at all today, it is in terms of hysterical outbursts, a mysterious hold over the Labour prime minister Harold Wilson and, above all, the ‘Lavender List’ – Wilson’s 1976 Resignation Honours List in which Marcia is believed to have played a significant part. Linda McDougall, the widow of the Labour MP Austin Mitchell, gives an infinitely more nuanced and sympathetic picture of this extraordinary woman. I found her biography gripping, with its insider knowledge of government, its picture of the emotional dynamics of Downing Street and its sensational claim that Marcia may have been drugged by Wilson’s own doctor.  She took Purple Hearts to