Andrew Lycett

A fateful squiggle on the map

When turbaned warriors from Daesh (or Isis) advanced on Raqqa in Syria two years ago, they whooped wildly about having ‘broken the Sykes-Picot Agreement’. They were celebrating athe destruction of national frontiers which had stood for nearly a century, since the fall of the Ottoman empire in 1918. They were also venting their spleen against

Lives of gay abandon

Somewhere I have a couple of neat letters from the artist Richard Chopping, politely declining my requests to interview him about Ian Fleming. ‘Dicky’ is best known for the trompe l’oeil dust jackets he painted for nine of Fleming’s James Bond novels. Because of this patronage, an accomplished second-division artist gained wider prominence, becoming at

The dog it was that died

Appropriately for the dog days of British politics, there’s plenty of canine activity in this neatly groomed account of the bizarre circumstances behind the murder plot which cost the Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe his job and his debonair reputation in the 1970s. First yelps from the kennel came from the Honourable Brecht Van de

A good editor and a good man

Before embarking on this book, Jeremy Lewis was told by his friend Diana Athill that his subject, the newspaper editor and philanthropist David Astor, was too ‘saintly’ for a lively biography. As a publisher, she had worked on an earlier authorised tome, and thought she knew. Lewis, and Astor, proved more resilient. There are always

‘Crazy mixed-up Yid’

Even David Litvinoff’s surname was a concoction. It was really Levy. Wanting something ‘more romantic’, he appropriated that of his mother’s first husband. So his elder half-brother, the respected writer Emanuel Litvinoff, informed Keiron Pim, adding that David was ‘an unfortunate character altogether’, prone to ‘inventing roles for himself that didn’t have any reality’. Yet

Age cannot wither her

There’s something reassuring about 98-year-old Diana Athill. She’s stately and well-ordered, like the gardens at Ditchingham Hall in Norfolk, her grandparents’ Georgian house where she spent long periods of her childhood. Yes, she really is of that class, though she doesn’t trumpet it (she was presented at court in the brief reign of King Edward

Through the Looking Glass

‘Have you got over your father yet?’ the 26-year-old David Cornwell was asked by MI5’s head of personnel when he joined the agency in the spring of 1958. And the answer, more than half a century later, has to be ‘no’. We knew of his conman father Ronnie’s cartoonish presence in Cornwell’s life, but never