Hilary Spurling

How The Spectator discovered Helen Mirren

One of the first jobs I ever did for The Spectator was to find out if professional wrestlers fixed the outcome of their fights in advance. This was 1965. The editor who wanted to know was Iain Macleod, a future chancellor of the exchequer filling in time while his party was out of office by

Surviving Mao’s China

Rao Pingru is 94, and a born storyteller. His gripping graphic narrative weaves in and out of the violent, disruptive upheavals that marked China’s transition in the 20th century from an immemorial, apparently immutable imperial past to its current uneasy truce with the technology, morals and politics of the Western world. He was born in

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

Spectator Books of the Year: The forgotten genius of Rose Hilton

I choose Ian Collins’s Rose Hilton (Lund Humphries, £35), a remarkable artist elbowed aside, like so many women of her generation, by a more established, much better known and far more forceful husband. Roger Hilton reckoned there was room for only one artist in their household, and that was him. This handsome, inviting and splendidly

One for all

Mei Fong tells the routine story of a girl who managed to conceal an illegal pregnancy until the baby was almost due, when family planning officials surrounded her hiding place at night. ‘She ran and ran and ran until she came to a pond. Then she ran in, until the water was at her neck.

Only the lonely

This book starts with a Chinese boy so privileged and pampered that, at 21, he can’t open his own suitcase, let alone unpack it. It closes at the opposite end of the social scale with a small girl squatting on a plank over a village cesspit, watching the maggots seething and squirming far below as

Literature’s least attractive power couple

This book charts the rise and fall of one of the strangest power couples of modern times. The senior partner was initially Pam Johnson, a rising literary star, 28 years old and happily married with five novels under her belt and a fiction column on the Liverpool Post, when she singled out a novel by

An enchanted forest of family trees

Michael Holroyd describes the first copy of his last book of memoirs plopping through the letterbox, the kind of moment that might have called for champagne anywhere but in the Holroyd household, which celebrated the book’s arrival with macabre revulsion: ‘I seemed to see, clambering through its pages, a troupe of ungainly, poignant, gesticulating clowns