Carrie On comedy

Credit: Shutterstock First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson Michael Ashcroft, Biteback, 2022, 304pp, £20 KEN BELL is unconvinced by an attempted character assassination Michael Ashcroft’s biography of Caroline ‘Carrie’ Johnson takes the art of reputational destruction to a completely new level, gleefully combining the hatchet and stiletto. By all accounts,…

Courtoom farces

Credit: Shutterstock A Matter of Obscenity Christopher Hilliard, Princeton University Press, 320pp, 2021, £30 KEN BELL follows the story of English law and ‘dirty books’ With its seventy-two pages of footnotes, Christopher Hilliard’s A Matter of Obscenity manages to combine the original archival research of the heavyweight historian with a lightness of touch that should…

Dreaming of utopias past

Henry Wrong, first administrator of the Barbican Centre, overlooking the build. Credit: Barbican Archive Building Utopia: The Barbican Centre Nicholas Kenyon et al, Batsford, 2022, 288pp, fully illus., £40 ALEXANDER ADAMS acknowledges a modernist monument’s coming of age My first exposure to the Barbican Centre came obliquely. In the children’s science-fiction drama The Tripods, when…

Canon, to the right of them

Colonialism and Modern Social Theory Gurminder K Bhambra & John Holmwood, Polity, 2021, 257 pp, £16 LESLIE JONES is unconvinced by a clever piece of 'decolonizing' advocacy The toxic legacy of European colonialism and imperialism underpins the 'populist ressentiment and rejection of multiculturalism' of the white working class in Europe and the USA [i], according to Bhambra…

Crises of a confidence-man

The Man Who Conned the World: Victor Lustig Christopher Sandford, The History Press, 2021, 300pp, £20 DEREK TURNER is forced to admire a brilliant rogue Christopher Sandford is an acknowledged expert on the cultural history of the twentieth century, who has written to scintillating effect on subjects from the Rolling Stones to Arthur Conan Doyle,…

Turned off by the turned on decade

Growing Up: Sex in the Sixties Peter Doggett, The Bodley Head, 400 pages, £25.00 KEN BELL finds a survey of Sixties sex is really about 2020s attitudes In Annus Mirabilis, Philip Larkin reflects famously: ‘Sexual intercourse beganIn nineteen sixty-three(which was rather late for me) -Between the end of the Chatterley banAnd the Beatles' first LP.’…

Escaping from reality – ‘The French Dispatch’

GUY WALKER greatly enjoys a playful new film, but finds it ultimately insubstantial Early on in The French Dispatch we encounter an imprisoned murderer who takes the art world by storm with an abstract nude painting of a female prison officer, with whom he manages to conduct an affair, secretly painted in his French prison.…

Refighting the last war

The Armchair General: Can You Defeat the Nazis? John Buckley, Century, £14.99 KEN BELL goes on the counterfactual offensive Many historians like to say that counter-factualism is a waste of time, at least until the port has been around the table twice and then they tend to become as keen as the rest of us…

Punishing treatment

Bleeding for Jesus: John Smyth and the Cult of the Iwerne Camps Andrew Graystone, Darton, Longman & Todd, £12.99 KEN BELL winces through a sad story of sadistic abuse and cover-up John Smyth QC had a public image in the 1970s and 1980s as a conservative activist who worked with Mary Whitehouse in her failed…