The spectator

The Spectator film critic who transformed cinema

‘Going to the pictures is nothing to be ashamed of,’ insisted the film writer Iris Barry in 1926. But it certainly wasn’t something to be proud of, either. To the cultural cognoscenti of the 1920s, Barry admitted, the cinema was barely an art at all – about as aesthetically significant as ‘passport photography’. And for much of polite society, seeing a film was done in secret, if at all. So it was a considerable boost for the fledgling medium when, 100 years ago, the word ‘cinema’ began to appear for the first time in this country above its own regular column, with its own dedicated critic, in the arts pages

My night with Rod Liddle

‘I was 12 when I first got laid.’ ‘Where was that?’ ‘In Middlesbrough.’ ‘How the hell did you get lucky at 12 in Middlesbrough, when I only managed it at 15 and on my father’s boat off Cannes in 1952?’ ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ This was no tortured confession by some doomed poet or gender-confused feminist, just party banter between the great Rod Liddle – who went Bulwer-Lytton on me – and the poor little Greek boy. The setting: the Old Queen Street garden where The Spectator is located and where we celebrated the sainted editor’s 50th birthday. Before I get to that, though, what is it

A.N. Wilson has many regrets

‘Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults.’ A.N. Wilson seems, on the surface, to have taken to heart the wise words of the Anglican general confession. Aged 71, he looks back on his life and career and records his regrets and failures both private and professional. His major concern is the failure of his marriage, at the age of 20, to Katherine Duncan-Jones, the Renaissance scholar. Katherine, ten years his senior, was a distinctive Oxford figure, recognisable by her sideways limp and for riding a wicker-basketed sit-up-and-beg bicycle. In later years they reconciled and met weekly for lunch. Wilson records Katherine’s sad, slow descent into dementia, which mimics

Wanted: an assistant online editor for The Spectator

The Spectator is growing fast. In the last few years, our sales have doubled and are now over 100,000. Most of our readers now turn to our website regularly, some several times a day, for analysis of the day’s events. What started out as a blog has now become a seven-day live digital comment operation and we’re recruiting accordingly. We have come far with a three-person digital team. We’re now looking for a fourth, full-time assistant online editor (to work with us here in 22 Old Queen Street) and also experienced journalists who may be available for shift work, either in the office or remotely. This is a brand new position

Why I’m touchy about being asked what I do for a living

In former times I had acquaintances of long standing, or even friends, who never once asked what I did for a job and neither did I ask them. In the new equitable era I seem to be always introduced to people who badly want to know before proceeding. Here’s how it goes. We are introduced. We exchange platitudes. I am difficult to place on the social scale, it’s true. The accent, for one thing. The question is shamelessly put just after the off: ‘So what do you do?’ (I complained about it to my American friend Vernon. That’s nothing, he said. In the United States they ask you how much

Why The Spectator is wrong to call for amnesty for illegal migrants

The Spectator is a magazine for conservatives written by liberals. From that tension comes an editorial persuasion — there is no line — that can seem winsome, beguiling, even perverse. Optimistic but never idealist, sceptical of the big but not the new, The Spectator combines a radical’s grasp of the possible with a reactionary’s sense of the inevitable. It is instinctually Whiggish but plagued by spasms of Toryism, looking forward through the rear-view mirror of life. If National Review is in the business of standing athwart history yelling ‘stop’, the The Spectator has more often been found sprinting ahead of history yelling ‘hurry up’. In the 1860s, it came close to

Tales from my private jet

Gstaad I was very sad to read of Rupert Hambro’s death. I didn’t know him well, but first met him long ago, along with his younger brother Rick, also gone. They were both quintessential English gentlemen: handsome, kind and with a great sense of humour. Rupert invited me to lunch quite a few times, but because of circumstance I was never able to reciprocate. The last one was at Wiltons, which he owned, I believe, but he never gave any indication that all was not well. In an age of crybabies and professional victims, Rupert stood out like a saint in hell. He leaves his lovely wife Robin, a Philadelphia-born

The fakery of Martha Gellhorn

Gstaad Martha Gellhorn was a long-legged blonde American writer and journalist who became Papa Hemingway’s third and penultimate wife. She got her start when H.G. Wells, then nearly 70, fell for her rather badly, advised her on her writing, and paid her a small retainer to keep him up to date on American trends. She was 27 at the time. Wells had met Martha at the White House during the Franklin Roosevelt years before the war, Eleanor having been a friend of Martha’s mother, who was known around St Louis for having a mad crush on the First Lady. Yes, dear readers, sex existed even back then, but people didn’t

It’s been a tough year for socialites

New York Here we go again, the annual holiest of holies is upon us, although to this oldie last Christmas feels as though it was only yesterday. Funny how time never seemed to pass quickly during those lazy days of long ago, but now rolls off like a movie calendar showing the days, months, years flashing by. I wrote my first Christmas column for this magazine 43 years ago, sitting in my dad’s office on Albemarle Street. I remember it well because I used every cliché known to man and then some (patter of little feet… children’s noses pressed against snowy windows). The then editor, Alexander Chancellor, said nothing to

The radical history of The Spectator

A newspaper – it would be more than 100 years before it became a magazine – calling itself a spectator of events, while consistently standing up for individual freedom, was bound to fall out with its readership from time to time. In the early years, under the editorship of its Scottish founder, Robert Rintoul, The Spectator’s support for the Tolpuddle Martyrs, for the Chartists and for the abolition of slavery in the colonies did not cause too many raised eyebrows. Thanks to Rintoul’s enlightened imperialism, a fund was established to settle labourers and young married couples in Australia and New Zealand. But when the new joint editors, Meredith Townsend and

Writing my High Life column made a man of me

As Cole Porter might have said, only second-rate people go on and on about their inner lives. Self-analysis, according to Cole, is the twin of self-promotion. Yet in this 10,000th issue of the world’s oldest and best weekly, and in my 43rd year of writing High Life, I have to admit to a bit of both of the above. So before any of you retreat into laptops and mobiles, some nostalgia is called for, starting in the spring of 1977. Many of the writers back then sent in their longhand-written copy via messenger, paid for by The Spectator. I used to type mine and slip it under the door at

From Middlemarch to Mickey Mouse: a short history of The Spectator’s books and arts pages

The old masters: how well they understood. John Betjeman’s architecture column ran for just over three years in the mid-1950s. Yet during that short run he experienced the moment that comes, sooner or later, to every regular writer in The Spectator’s arts pages. ‘It is maddening the way people corner one and make one discuss politics at the moment,’ he wrote on 23 November 1956, clearly as bored of the Suez crisis as the rest of us were, until recently, by Brexit: Because I write in this paper, people assume that I share its Editor’s views about Suez… But I don’t know what the views of this paper about Suez

Vodka, kaolin and morphine: my welcome drinks at The Spectator offices

In 2001, aged 44, I was hired to write a weekly column for this august paper, and for the first time in my life there was a London door on which I could knock or ring, at any time of the day or evening, and be welcomed in. And what a door! To walk along the Regency terrace sun trap of Doughty Street in Bloomsbury on a summer evening, then breeze through the open door of number 56, and to know that the people to be found inside were the funniest, cleverest, most unsnobbish collection of individuals, and that booze was the second language, was a dream come true. I