Mark McGinness

The genius of Nancy Mitford

Nancy, the first – and perhaps most famous – of the six Mitford girls, died half-a-century ago on 30 June. The lives of the Mitford sisters seem as remote today as Jane Austen’s Bennett sisters. It is almost impossible to separate the family from their fictional equivalents. The books that made them so, Nancy’s The

Granada’s Brideshead Revisited remains the sine qua non of mini-series

It is 40 years ago today since Granada’s masterly adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited first beamed into British homes. This 11-part serialisation of a book originally entitled A Household of the Faith soon gathered millions of faithful householders. The autumn of 1981 was an especially cold and wet one and it was still too soon in the Thatcher premiership for her patron

James Bond and the Beatles herald a new Britain

The word ‘magisterial’ consistently attaches itself to the work of David Kynaston. His eye-wateringly exhaustive four-volume history of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street established him as a historian with a confident command of a huge body of information, as bloodless and dry as the subject was. Embarking on Tales of a New Jerusalem, a

To the brownstone born: WASPS, by Michael Knox Beran, reviewed

It was only in 1948 that the term WASP was coined — by a Florida folklorist, Stetson Kennedy. Yet White Anglo-Saxon Protestant never satisfactorily defined this all-but-extinct breed of American Brahmin. In his sweeping, teeming study of the WASP, Michael Knox Beran concedes that the acronym fumbles its origins. For one thing, it excludes the

What would Alistair Cooke have made of Trump’s inauguration?

Margaret Thatcher’s Lord Chancellor, Quintin Hailsham, himself half-American, once observed that the US system of government was ‘an elective monarchy with a king who rules . . . but does not reign’. The British system was ‘a republic with a hereditary life president who . . . reigns but does not rule’. And so, perhaps, it

Hitler’s Valkyrie: Unity Mitford at 100

On 8 August 1914, four days after the declaration of war, Unity Valkyrie Mitford was born, the fifth child and fourth daughter of David and Sydney Freeman-Mitford, who admired the actress Unity Moore. Grandfather Redesdale suggested Valkyrie, after his friend Wagner’s Norse war-maidens. The fact that Unity Valkyrie had been conceived in the town of