Byron Rogers

When Mussolini came knocking on Hollywood’s door

John Ford was the first of the five famous Hollywood film directors to go to war. He went expecting to get given a sword, which he could then brandish. After all, he knew about swords; they were things that came out of props baskets in his cavalry epics, but that was in films. Unfortunately in

What happens when journalists take sides

This is a curious book. Its title and the name of its publisher suggest that it is going to be an indictment by two journalists of their old profession. These two are now safe and snug in higher education: Stewart Purvis, a former chief executive of ITN, became Professor of Television Journalism at City University

Boliver, by Marie Arana – review

So here we go again into a heart of darkness:  the humbug and horror which is the history of Spanish South America ever since Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola. Now modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the island’s population had within a few decades of Columbus’ arrival, through genocide and disease, been reduced

Michael Wharton: A Peter Simple life

He was fascinated by the Welsh, whom he listed, along with walking and gardening, as one of his three recreations in Who’s Who, something that alarmed those few Welshmen he actually met. One of them, the political columnist Alan Watkins, who had been sturdily on the run from his race for most of his working

Part of the pantheon

Henry Fonda once said that he had never had any ambition to be a film star. But then how could a man want to become someone who came out of nowhere, had no past, so that even the names we know them by were mostly not ones bestowed on them by their parents and the

Now we know what happened

First there was Sir Walter Raleigh, who after ‘getting one of the Mayds of Honour up against a tree in a Wood’ went on to write The Historie of the World. Then there was H.G.Wells, who cut a swathe through the high-minded girl intellectuals of the early 20th century, a new species, before writing The

More vindictive than merry

At first I thought this was going to be a terrible book. It starts like a Hollywood B-movie Western on which Ingmar Bergman has done a quick rewrite. This, for example, is how the authors convey the simple fact that Oliver Cromwell died on 3 September 1658: ‘Death finally caught up with Oliver Cromwell on

Out of sight, out of mind

Arthur Newton and Peter Gavuzzi, long-distance interwar runners, are two of the most extraordinary British athletes. They are also the most forgotten. This is because the distances they favoured were too long to be accommodated by any athletics event: to them a marathon would have been a mere warm-up jog, their distances were 100 miles,

More sinned against than sinning

When I saw the title of this book, then read that it only covered the period 1600-1800 I hoped this would be a riot of comedy, something along the lines of the most wonderful sentence in the English language. This is in Havelock Ellis’s Psychology of Sex and concerns a discovery made by the doctor

Nobody turns up

This is not a book likely to figure in the lists of the reading circles of Home Counties England. There is for a start the little problem of a title, which on the spine is How to Disappear but then itself does, for the centre of its frontispiece is A Memoir for Misfits. A dedication

Scenes from the Mad Hatter’s tea party

I only ever heard my mother admit twice to fancying other men. One, remarkably, was Saddam Hussein, the other was Richard Burton, and of each she said, ‘He’s a good-looking old man.’ She said this the way only a Welsh Baptist matron could: grimly, and because she was secure in the knowledge that she was

A world of her own

This book, written by someone whose husband was for three years prime minister of Britain, is impossible to review. Yes, it is dull, but it is so triumphantly, so ineffably, dull it enters a breezy little monochrome world of its own. There is no characterisation, for no value judgments are passed, except those on Mrs

Nowhere becomes somewhere

There have been quite a few anthologies of British eccentricity. Usually they are roll-calls of the lunatic: a sought-after heiress so snobbish she finally gave her hand in marriage to a man who had managed to convince her he was the Emperor of China; a miser so mean he would sit on fish until he

Laughter from the Gallery

This is an amiable book. The parliamentary sketchwriter Simon Hoggart, also the wine correspondent of this magazine, for which he drinks as selflessly as Zorba the Greek, has set out to record anecdotes that have amused and appalled him in the course of his long professional life. He also throws in some, mainly Jewish, jokes

Mountain sheep aren’t sweeter

Anyone who can speak Welsh is going to get a lot of fun from this book. Antony Woodward buys a six-acre smallholding 1200 feet up a mountain near Crickhowell in Wales where he sets about trying to fulfill his dream of creating what may be the highest garden in Britain. The smallholding is called Tair

Holy smoke | 22 May 2010

I have seen the last of the things that are gone, brooded the poet Padraic Colum. But then so have we all. We have seen them clustered outside the plate-glass doors of offices or under the flapping canvas awnings ouside pubs, these last irreconcilables inhaling in the wind and rain. And the crazy thing is

The stuff of legend

This book could have been a classic. It starts as an account of the author’s family, no better, no worse than many such; but then, amongst the grandparents and the uncles, one figure starts to shoulder his way through the rout of characters, slowly at first, but then, perhaps two thirds of the way through,

Method in his madness

The car manufacturer Henry Ford dominates this remarkable book, managing, like Falstaff, to be its tragic hero, villain, and comic relief all at the same time. A gaunt, pacing figure, he conducted interviews while standing, believed in the values of small Main Street America (though his methods of industrial mass production destroyed these), and in

Racists, pigs and hysterics

I cannot remember getting so much pleasure from a book. It is not just its beauty, the handmade paper, the quarter leather, the engraving of the Rhaeadr Falls cut in purple into the cover cloth of something the size of an atlas. These are accidental details (as, I note bemusedly, is the fact that it