Lewis Jones

The threat of the Black Shorts

In 2016, inspired by reports that Donald Trump’s butler had recommended the assassination of Barack Obama, Ben Schott wrote a scintillating squib, published in these pages, about Trump meeting Bertie Wooster. As he later noted in a diary column, it gave him the idea of writing a new Jeeves and Wooster novel. Predictably, reassuringly, soothingly,

Three for the road

One of the great challenges in life, writes Richard Ford in Between Them, ‘is to know our parents fully — assuming they survive long enough, are worth knowing and it is physically possible’. Leaving aside the question of whether we can ever know anyone fully, Ford’s knowledge of his parents, Parker and Edna, was limited.

In the gutter, insulting the stars

John McEntee — ‘the Chancer from Cavan’, as he bills himself — has enjoyed a long career as a gossip columnist on various national newspapers. Gossip is thirsty work, and in the anecdotes that comprise the bulk of his memoirs he is almost invariably ‘well-refreshed’. That can also be dangerous. He recalls, for example, attempting

Bohemian life Down Under

Here’s a pair of little books — one even littler than the other — by Robin Dalton (née Eakin), a celebrated Australian literary agent and film producer, now aged 92, who has lived in London for the past 70 years. As she explains in a prefatory note, Aunts Up the Cross was written as ‘a

Disgusted of X-ville

Eileen is an accomplished, disturbing and creepily funny first novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, the latest darling of the Paris Review, which has published her stories and given her a prize. It recalls, half a century later, a week in the life of Eileen Dunlop, leading up to Christmas 1964. Her mother, whom she loathed, has

A posh Del Boy

The Art of Smuggling comes garlanded with fraternal encomia from Howard ‘Mr Nice’ Marks, Phil Sparrowhawk (author of Grass) and Maurice O’Connor (author of The Dealer), but it seems the author was hardly a master of his chosen art. As Eddie the Eagle was to skiing, so was Francis Morland to drug trafficking. Spectacularly unsuccessful

Jack the Ripper unmasked again

The Whitechapel Fiend is a psychic conduit for the vilest aspects of Victorian sex and class, and a creature mainly of the imagination. In 1888, the year of the murders, John Francis Brewer published The Curse Upon Mitre Square, and novels have followed from such writers as Edgar Lustgarten, Colin Wilson and Iain Sinclair. Many

The history man

History for Gore Vidal was a vehicle to be ridden in triumph, perhaps as in an out-take from Ben-Hur, which he worked on during one of his stints as a Hollywood hack, camping up the script to annoy Charlton Heston. Not only did he ride the Vehicle of History, but as its amanuensis and avatar,

The raffish toff with a winning Formula

Max Mosley’s autobiography has been much anticipated: by the motor racing world, by the writers and readers of tabloid newspapers, by social historians, and by lawyers, whom one imagines perusing it with nods, frowns and the occasional wince. Mosley is a barrister of Gray’s Inn, and it was as a lawyer that, with his friend

Not a patch on our own Dear Mary

As Dear Mary so wittily demonstrates, our need for advice is perennial. But fashions change. Mary would probably take issue with The Handbook of the Toilette (1839), which advises that one should take a weekly bath whether one needs to or not, and also with the recommendation of Cassell’s Home Encyclopedia (1934) that ‘bloater cream’

Touring America in Steinbeck’s footsteps

In 1960 John Steinbeck set off with his poodle Charley to drive around the United States in a truck equipped with a bed, a desk, a stove and a fridge. To renew his acquaintance with that ‘monster of a land’, he planned to cross the northern states from the east coast to the west, then

From head-shrinking to skull-seeking: a history of the severed head

A severed head, argues Frances Larson in her sprightly new book, is ‘simultaneously a person and a thing… an apparently impossible duality… an intense incongruity’. History is ‘littered’ with such heads. Pilgrims visit them: the heads of St Peter and St Paul, for example, are thought to be in the high altar of the Basilica

Was John Cleese ever funny?

Like many of my generation I was enchanted by the surrealistic irreverence of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, until I overheard other boys — it was never girls — excitedly murdering the Parrot Sketch: ‘Ah yes, the Norwegian Blue — lovely plumage…’ This was not out of a snobbish disdain for popularity; I still loved the

James Bond’s secret: he’s Jamaican

Ian Fleming’s first visit to Jamaica was pure James Bond. In 1943, as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, he flew from Miami to Kingston to attend an Anglo-American naval conference and to investigate the rumour that Axel Wenner-Gren, a rich Swede and supposed Nazi, had built a secret submarine base at Hog Island,

Wealth is no guarantee of happiness. Look at the Sackville-Wests

When Robert Sackville-West was writing Inheritance (2010), his history of Knole and the Sackvilles, he was ‘struck’, as he recalls in his new book, by the way that Sackvilles have ‘tended to take Italian or Spanish dancers as mistresses’. The most notable of these was Josefa Duran, the flamenco dancer known as ‘Pepita’. A barber’s

Lost Kerouac that should have stayed lost

In 1944, when he was 22, Jack Kerouac lost a manuscript — in a taxi, as he thought, but probably in Allen Ginsberg’s room at Columbia University — and it stayed lost until 2002, when it was auctioned at Sotheby’s. Now it has been published, all 70 pages of it, together with some youthful sketches

Finally, a celebrity memoir worth reading

Unlike many celebrity memoirs, Anjelica Huston’s is worth reading. In her Prologue she writes that as a child she modeled herself on Morticia Addams, and where a lesser celebrity memoirist would go on to say that she eventually played Morticia in a film of The Addams Family, Huston is generous enough not to labour the