Thomas W. Hodgkinson

Thomas W. Hodgkinson is the author of How to be Cool.

Did Hollywood moguls really make a pact with Hitler?

At the recent Austin Film Festival, at every ruminative panel or round-table discussion I attended, I slapped my copy of this book down in front of me. The cover, I felt, was bound to catch the eye of the screen legends and louche suits from the big production companies. Above the uncompromising title, it shows

Transylvania Diary by Thomas W. Hodgkinson – diary

Ehe-Gefängnis. The word, strictly speaking (which is how one should always speak), means ‘marriage prison’, and refers to an austere cell maintained in some of the magnificent fortified Saxon churches of central Transylvania. When a local couple decided to divorce, they were first locked in this narrow room for several weeks. There was only one

The Prince of medicine, by Susan P. Mattern – review

In the first draft of the screenplay for the film Gladiator, the character to be played by Russell Crowe (‘father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife’, etc) was named not Maximus, but Narcissus. Which might have made for a slightly different movie. One can imagine the emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) telling

Models of impropriety

Once upon a time, there was an art scholar called John. He spent his days admiring marble statues, his nights in praying that he might be allowed a real-life statue as his wife. And in due course, he met a beautiful girl. She was a bit younger than him, but that was OK, because it

Tangier, by Josh Shoemake – review

This may sound a little orientalist, but Tangier has some claim to being the most foreign city in the world. Back in the day, its position at the northernmost tip of Africa was regarded as the edge of civilisation — more than that, as the edge of what was known, the edge of everything. Here

Confronting the Classics, by Mary Beard – review

The Emperor Augustus, ruler of the known world, once spotted a man in the street who looked a bit like himself. ‘Did your mother ever work at the palace?’ he asked him roguishly. ‘No,’ the man replied, ‘but my father did.’ Augustus could have had the man killed for this scurrilous (and slightly surreal) insinuation,

Pyrrhic victories

In 193 BC, Scipio met Hannibal at Ephesus, and asked him who, in his opinion, were the greatest generals of all time. Since he’d personally defeated Rome’s most dangerous enemy a decade earlier, he rather expected to be on his list. But Hannibal first named Alexander the Great; then Pyrrhus (who like him had come within

Indian giver

A 465-page volume of short stories by a Native American author — it’s not, perhaps, the kind of thing everyone would automatically reach for, if they hadn’t already heard about it. Well, now you’ve heard about it, so you don’t have that excuse. Reach for it. Read it. Because the stories it contains (15 new,

Understated elegance

A man raised by apes is discovered in Africa, recognised as an English lord, and escorted home. At a formal dinner, he raises a bowl of soup to his lips and slurps noisily. His grandfather, noting consternation among the other guests, immediately does the same, murmuring, ‘Quite right! Quite right! I hate spoons.’ This scene

The gulf of greatness

Ladies and gentlemen,’ Laurence Olivier declared in his clipped, semi-metallic tones to the audience at the Vic as he took his curtain call, ‘tonight a great actress has been born. Laertes has a daughter.’ The man playing Laertes to Olivier’s Hamlet on that evening in January 1937 was Michael Redgrave. The daughter was Vanessa, who

Going overboard

What is it about islands that appeals to little men with big ideas? It’s Corfu I’m thinking about, primarily. Napoleon was obsessed with the place. Kaiser Wilhelm owned a summer palace here, the neoclassical Achilleion, where he installed a huge and hideous statue of Achilles. Can I add George Osborne to the list? Perhaps I’d

Man of many parts

My father, a man not given to hero-worship, once told me that the only actor he really admired was Richard Burton. Some years later, I put the question to Peter O’Toole, who had been reading excerpts from his lushly overwritten memoirs at the Oxford Union. ‘Mr O’Toole,’ I said, ‘I was wondering if…’ A shy

The stuff of dreams

‘As I was writing this book and trying to discover what it was about .…’ With his very first words, David Thomson pulls out the carpet from under himself, drapes it over his head, and runs towards the nearest wall. For what he’s admitting in this opening sentence is that, when he began work on

Sweetest songs of saddest thoughts

In February 1966, in the first flush of his fame, an interviewer asked Bob Dylan what his songs were about. ‘Oh, some are about four minutes,’ he responded. ‘Some are about five. And some, believe it or not, are about 11 or 12.’ The joke was justified, in a sense. Why should any artist be

Not grinning but scowling

I am deeply envious of Chris Cleeve, so maybe everything that follows should be taken with a pinch of salt. This is a guy whose first novel won the Somerset Maugham Award and whose second nestled snugly in the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. ‘Stunning,’ said the International Herald Tribune. ‘Stunning,’

The dirty dozen

I have this fantasy in which I’m the Emperor Nero. I’m relaxing in my toga, and there are these slave girls dancing for me, and one of them has the most incredible … Like all the best fantasies, it’s a little unrealistic, let us say, but I didn’t know how unrealistic until I read this

Old Man of Corfu

‘The woes of painters!’ lamented Edward Lear in a letter to a friend in 1862. Earlier that day, he was pottering around his apartment in Corfu Town, when, glancing out of the window, he spotted a troop of soldiers marching past. One of them, a certain Colonel Bruce, spied Lear and saluted. At which, forgetting

On the way to the forum

In 150 BC, Cato the Elder arrived in the Senate House in Rome with an eye-catching basket of figs. This redoubtable statesman — often referred to as ‘censorius’, an epithet I have coveted since my childhood — was famous, apart from his censoriousness, for his conviction that the most important thing for Rome at any

Who’s the real monster?

‘The first monster that an audience has to be scared of is the film-maker. They have to feel in the presence of someone not confined by the normal rules of decency.’ Thus decreed Wes Craven, that maestro of horror who gave us, among other gems, The Last House on the Left (1972), in which a