An affectionate exercise in comic sabotage: Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) reviewed

Let’s be honest. Jane Austen is popular because War and Peace doesn’t fit inside a handbag. Austen’s best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice, has been updated in a fetching new production that treats the sacred text as a screwball comedy. The fun starts before curtain-up with the cast of five girls messing about on stage and struggling with a chandelier that almost shatters but doesn’t. This improv bit is irritatingly predictable. Then the show begins and the girls start to curse, laugh and pontificate their way through the tale. We get a feminist lecture explaining that Mrs Bennet’s predicament owes itself to the laws of bequest that prevented women from inheriting

Harry and Meghan, the term ‘Megxit’ isn’t sexist

Just when you thought Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s collective victim complex couldn’t get any more vast and cavernous, up they pop again to make clear, in pained tones, just how persecuted this multimillionaire formerly royal couple believe themselves to be. We already knew that their allies think ‘Megxit’ was all about racism. That their departure from the monarchy, freeing them up to cut lucrative deals in the United States, was forced by their supposedly racist treatment by the tabloids. Now we learn it was also all about misogyny, and that the term ‘Megxit’ is itself shot through with hatred for the Duchess of Sussex. Speaking this week on an online

Back in the magic land of Narnia

C. S. Lewis’s enchanting Chronicles of Narnia series has, in recent years, come under critical fire. It’s racist, sexist, colonialist; blatant propaganda for Christianity, hoodwinking children into a life of religious submission. These barbs seem to me to miss the point. As a geeky nine-year-old, I had a dim sense that Aslan had something to do with Jesus Christ. But so what — he was a talking lion! (And, even to children who weren’t Scripture swots, he clearly isn’t Jesus Christ, but something else.) Dyed-in-the-wool atheists get it wrong. I’ve never met a child who marched blindly from Narnia to Christ; but I have met children (now adults) who, already

If you want a play that brings girls into science, commission a man: Jina and the STEM Sisters reviewed

Jina and the STEM Sisters is a blatant act of propaganda. And its intentions are excellent. This is a musical puppet show that sets out to encourage girls of eight and older to take up careers in science where women remain under-represented. The heroine, Jina, is a schoolgirl who embarks on a hike through a dark forest haunted by ghosts and demons. It’s not clear to the viewer why she’s there or where she’s going. And she hasn’t a clue either. Perhaps the forest represents the world of intellectual repression she inhabits. ‘I ask a lot of questions,’ Jina tells us. ‘They say, “too many questions”.’ That’s an odd start.

Why aren’t we teaching women self-defence?

Women all know that queasy shock of hyper-awareness when a man on the street or the Tube or bus begins to behave in a threatening way. It is a moment in which an action plan is hatched and, in the vast majority of cases, that action plan is to try and disappear. Walk, do not make eye contact, say not a word and hope for the best. If he has you captive, for instance on a Tube carriage, ignore, ignore, ignore. Grimly stare ahead. The goal, after all, is to escape, not to inflame. But all too often this is not effective. The reality is that women feel afraid because

‘Sexist’ covid poster scrapped by the government

Another day, another Covid advertising fail for the government. Fresh from discontinuing a radio ad suggesting joggers and dog-walkers are ‘highly likely’ to have coronavirus, a ‘stay home, save lives’ poster has been pulled.  The advert, which showed women cleaning and caring for children while a man lounged on a sofa, sparked accusations of sexism. ‘It has been withdrawn and removed from the campaign. I will make clear that it does not reflect the government’s view on women which is why we have withdrawn it,’ Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said today.  Oh dear..

King of rock

‘Invest in your hair,’ advises David Coverdale, a man with a shag of the stuff glossier than a supermodel’s and as big as a guardsman’s bearskin, even at the age of 67. (He won’t say that number. He insists his age is ‘three score and seven’.) ‘People say to me: “Do you colour your hair?” And I say: “Absolutely not.” ’ He pauses for half a beat. ‘ “I have a super hairdresser who does it for me.” Some guy came on Instagram, telling me: “Come on, David, it’s time to get rid of the wig.” It’s not something I bought from Frederick’s of Hollywood, you silly bastard! It’s a

The end is in sight

Channel 4’s When I Grow Up had an important lesson for middle-class white males everywhere: you’re never too young to be held up as a git. The series, billed as ‘a radical experiment in social mobility’, gets a group of seven- and eight-year-old children from different backgrounds to work together in a real-life office setting — which in Thursday’s first episode was, rather unexpectedly, Hello! magazine. The editor-in-chief Rosie Nixon began by announcing, in the tones of one making a brave stance against prevailing social attitudes: ‘I do feel passionately about diversity.’ And this, of course, was also the brave stance taken by the programme itself and its on-hand experts,

Smelly hippies

The last time I saw a copy of the New Musical Express — the ferociously influential 1970s pop paper which plucked me from working-class provincial obscurity at the age of 17 and set me on the radiant way to fame, fortune and utter fabulousness — it was in a rain-lashed Shaftesbury Avenue, its humble bin pleading PLEASE TAKE ONE. As I stared at my tattered alma mater in appalled fascination, as one would a long-lost grand passion who had been vandalised by Old Father Time and then done over by Mother Nature for good measure, I reflected rather smugly that we had both come a long way, though thankfully in

Rod Liddle

If girls don’t like physics, it’s down to biology

I was delighted to see Claire Foy win an Emmy award for her portrayal of the Queen in the fine Netflix series The Crown. It may have helped assuage her annoyance at initially being paid £200,000 less than her co-star, Matt Smith, who did a fairly good impersonation of a young, brooding Duke of Edinburgh. Foy had more lines than Smith, is as capable an actor as Smith, was the leading role and, importantly, is at least as fit as Smith. This last point is vital because television often casts people on account of their attractiveness, because viewers like looking at attractive people rather than at hideous fat munters. Whatever,

Serena Williams isn’t the victim of sexism – she’s just a sore loser

Serena Williams’s epic tantrum in last night’s US Open final wasn’t a noble stand against racism or sexism. It wasn’t about her being black, or a woman, or a mother — although of course it very quickly became about that, as tweeters and sports hacks climbed over each other to defend the Queen of Women’s tennis because she is a famous mega brand and her brand is about being black, a woman, and a mother. But in our hearts we all know what really happened. Williams behaved like a bad loser then pretended to be a victim of societal injustice to justify her bratty performance. It was a pathetic and

Fortnite’s fun, so it must be bad

It was only a matter of time. The headteacher of a primary school in Ilfracombe in Devon has banned ‘Flossing’, the dance craze linked to the video game Fortnite, on the grounds that it’s being used to ‘intimidate’ other children. ‘Fortnite is about mass killing of other human beings and being rewarded by a dance of celebration if you are successful,’ she told the Telegraph. This is the latest example of the moral panic surrounding Fortnite, a video game in which up to 100 players compete against each other, either individually or in ‘squads’, to see who can be the last man standing. So far this year, the National Crime

High life | 12 October 2017

I smell a rat when it comes to Harvey Weinstein. Let’s take it from the start. The telephone rang very early in the morning and a woman’s voice told me that Harvey Weinstein wanted to speak to me. I was put on hold. I waited. And waited, and then waited some more. The reason I didn’t hang up was that I wanted to tell Harvey that if Queen Elizabeth had made me wait as long as he had I would have hung up. ‘But for you, Sir Harvey, I’ll wait an eternity.’ Well, Harvey is a Commander of the British Empire but I upgraded him a notch because, as strange

True grit | 14 September 2017

As literary editor of the Sunday Times in the early 1980s, when the rest of the editorial staff routinely papered their offices with mildly erotic female images, Claire Tomalin stuck up pictures of sexy men: ‘Some found it hard to believe I could do anything so shocking.’ Double standards, casual sexism and blanket prejudice were normal at the time, even on a relatively civilised national paper. I know because I had the same job a few years earlier at The Spectator. Men ran the world and women answered the phone. Claire had come down from Cambridge with a first in 1955, but the BBC refused her a job on the

Diary – 26 January 2017

Did you know that if you use the f-word while talking to a BT representative, they hang up on you? Here’s how our conversation went when I finally got through after several abortive attempts and ‘holding’ for at least 15 minutes. Me: ‘I’m ringing because the engineer who was supposed to come between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. has not turned up. I’ve been waiting for over five hours. My name is xxx, my reference number is xxx.’ BT man: ‘Could you give me your date of birth and the first line of your address?’ Me: ‘My date of birth is xxx, my address is xxx. This is the third

Is sexism really stopping more women from becoming MPs?

The reliably irritating Women and Equalities Select Committee under its unfailingly irritating chair, Maria Miller, has come up trumps again, with a proposal for increasing the number of women MPs. The committee initiated an inquiry in the summer of 2016 into gender representation in the Commons and it has now concluded that all political parties should set out how they intend to increase the proportion of women in Parliament by 2020. If they don’t, it says the Government should set a domestic target of 45 per cent of all representatives in Parliament and local government by 2030. The goal, it says, should be backed by law setting a statutory minimum


‘When I asked the bank,’ said my husband, ‘they were no help at all.’ My attention was distracted from his Kafkaesque predicament, which is both typical and too complicated to explain. Instead I was pondering the reference to the bank as they. This is well established in British English. The bank, Sainsbury’s or England (the cricket team) can be they, or equally correctly, it. Just be consistent. But my husband’s ramblings had reminded me that David Willetts, when talking on the radio about adult education, had said ‘someone in their thirties or forties’. The Willettsian usage has their, a plural personal adjective, referring back to someone, a singular antecedent. I think

Pussy galore

I think I might be turning into Alf Garnett. When I was growing up I saw him as an obnoxious, cantankerous, ranting old git that my grandparents’ generation seemed to find funny but who left me cold. Now I’m beginning to identify with him as an unfairly maligned and surprisingly youthful fount of wisdom whose tragedy is to be ignored by maddeningly unsympathetic womenfolk and infuriating kids. That was my thought, anyway, watching Till Death Us Do Part (Thursday, BBC Four) — a one-off remake of one of Johnny Speight’s original Sixties scripts, with The Fast Show’s Simon Day as Alf. It’s part of a short season, ‘Lost Sitcoms’, commissioned

Baby with the bathwater

Bustle, an online newspaper ‘for and by women’, has published ‘six common phrases you didn’t know were sexist (that you’ll now want to ban from your vocabulary)’. One of them is ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’. By chance this phrase was used by Sir Ernest Gowers, the enemy of officialese and cliché, in his book H.W. Fowler: The Man and his Teaching. ‘We can,’ Sir Ernest wrote, ‘rid ourselves of those grammarians’ fetishes which make it more difficult to be intelligible without throwing the baby away with the bath-water’. That would annoy someone called Julie Sprankles, a writer for Bustle. ‘The most popular theory is that in medieval

Glastonbury’s ‘women-only’ venue deserves to sink into the mud

It was only a matter of time before Glastonbury, the world’s most middle-class festival, caught up with the latest political trend. In an announcement heralded as brave, pioneering and ‘necessary’, a group called ‘The Sisterhood’ have announced a women-only venue at the four-day festival. ‘In a world that is still run by and designed to benefit mainly men,’ the group argue, ‘oppression against women continues in various manifestations’. The way to combat this global sexism, it seems, is to have a boy-free zone at festivals. The Sisterhood has designed the special zone to allow women ‘to connect, network [and] share their stories’ about sex work, domestic violence and the pay