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March 2016 | £4.25 | | Issue 332

Olivia de Havilland at 99, Oldie of the Year Britain’s debt to Mussolini Nature writing deplored by Frances Wilson





Our debt to Il Duce

All about Me

The art of beauty

Allan Massie explains how Mussolini helped the British win the war

Features 14 The Oldie of the Year awards Profiles of the winners 26 Our debt to Mussolini Allan Massie 28 Hit by the juggernaut Duff Hart-Davis 31 Nature as a mirror for Me Frances Wilson 34 A marriage of hearts and minds Andrew Lambirth

Regulars 5 The Old Un’s Notes 9 Res Publica Simon Carr 11 Media Matters Stephen Glover 12 Olden Life 12 Modern Life 13 Notes from the Sofa Raymond Briggs 21 Jeremy Lewis 22 Virginia Ironside

65 Newman Street, London W1T 3EG To order a print or digital subscription call 01795 592893 ABC circulation figure Jan–June 2015: 46,144

Frances Wilson on the ego trip of ‘new nature writing’

24 The Way We Live Now Dafydd Jones 36 Home Truths Sophia Waugh 36 House Husbandry Giles Wood 37 Home Front Alice Pitman 38 Letter from America 40 Reader Trip 41 I Once Met 41 Memory Lane 42 Memorial Service James Hughes-Onslow 42 Set in stone Harry Mount 43 Rant 43 Wilfred De’Ath 44 Readers’ Letters 57 Words and Stuff Johnny Grimond 57 Pedant’s Revolt 58 Oldie literary lunches 71 Getting Dressed Brigid Keenan 73 Travel

77 Travel Tips 78 Reader Walk 80 Overlooked Britain Lucinda Lambton 81 Taking a walk Adam Nicolson 82 God Sister Teresa 82 Learn Latin Harry Mount 83 Profitable Wonders James Le Fanu 85 Bird of the Month John McEwen 86 Digital Life Matthew Webster 86 Money Matters Margaret Dibben 87 The Doctor’s Surgery Tom Stuttaford 98 Ask Mary Mary Kenny

Editor Alexander Chancellor Deputy editor Jeremy Lewis Sub-editor Deborah Maby Art editor John Bowling Books editor Claudia FitzHerbert Supplements editor Liz Anderson Publishing and events co-ordinator Rosie Pearce Publisher James Pembroke

Editorial 020 7436 8801

Andrew Lambirth on the paintings of Bernard Dunstan and Diana Armfield

Books 50 This month’s book reviews

Advertising For display contact Lisa Martin or Paul Pryde on 020 7079 9361 or 020 7079 9362

Arts 59 Film Marcus Berkmann 61 Theatre Paul Bailey 61 Radio Valerie Grove 62 Television Roger Lewis 63 DVD Andrew Nickolds 63 Music Richard Osborne 65 Exhibitions Huon Mallalieu

Pursuits 67 Gardening David Wheeler 67 Kitchen Garden Simon Courtauld 68 Cookery Elisabeth Luard 68 Restaurants James Pembroke 69 Wine Bill Knott 70 Sport Jim White 70 Motoring Alan Judd

Plus 89 Crosswords Antico 91 Bridge Andrew Robson 91 Competition Tessa Castro Literary lunch bookings Call Katherine on 01225 427 311 Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm Newsstand enquiries Front cover illustration: Gary Smith

For classified contact Louis Gilbert on 020 7079 9363

The Oldie March 2016 3

what was Radio Luxembourg? Memory Lane has some unexpected turnings. For instance on a recent visit to Bristol, a city I don’t know very well, I caught sight of a signpost to Keynsham. ‘Good God!’ I thought, ‘That must be where Horace Batchelor lived.’ Horace Batchelor? Sixty years on that seems a reasonable question. But to a schoolboy like me in the 1950s, Horace Batchelor, the football pools pundit, and Radio Luxembourg, ‘the station of the stars’, were indivisible. Batchelor’s patter, delivered in a Bristolian burr, always concluded with the deliberate spelling of Keynsham, which he put on the map. He was, in his way, a bit of an institution – just like ‘Luxy’ itself. It was in 1933 that British listeners first heard Radio Luxembourg. By then radio was challenging print as a medium of communication, which of course made it attractive to advertisers. But in Britain, much to the frustration of admen and their clients, the BBC had what its puritanical director-general Sir John Reith called ‘a brutal monopoly’. Then, as now, there were no commercials: just ‘Bark Kantatas’, to quote a disgruntled listener, and other highbrow stuff. But the government couldn’t stop people listening to English language programmes beamed from the Continent

what is Wild Swimming? Wild swimming is a movement or fashion inspired by Roger Deakin’s aquatic journey across the British Isles, as told in his best-selling book of 1999, Waterlog. Deakin himself had been inspired by John Cheever’s short story ‘The Swimmer’, which became a film starring Burt Lancaster. The tone of Waterlog is set by Deakin’s ‘starter-dips’ in the moat of his Suffolk farmhouse, where he gains a frog’s-eye view of the world. He then resolves to wild swim through the whole British Isles. He wanted ‘to follow the rain on its 12 The Oldie March 2016

– programmes that even on the Sabbath featured hot jazz, described by Reith as ‘a filthy product of modernity’. But the most popular pre-war programme of all was a children’s request show, The Ovaltineys, with its ‘infectious’ jingle: ‘We are the Ovaltineys/Happy girls and boys…’ Sponsored by Ovaltine, this canny merchandising ploy had by 1939 accumulated an audience of five million. Then that September the Luxembourg government, anxious to preserve its neutrality, closed the station down – only for the Nazis to reopen it in May 1940, using its powerful transmitter to relay Lord Haw-Haw’s fabrications. When Luxembourg was liberated in September 1944 the American army took the station over and it was not back on air until 1946. In 1951 Luxy switched from long wave to the evenings-only frequency of 208 metres medium wave. But it struggled to find enough advertising, having lost much of its audience to the immensely popular – and populist – BBC Light Programme. Ironically, given its pre-war reputation for irreverence, it relied heavily upon lucrative contracts with American Bible-punchers, notably the Worldwide Church of God, whose mouthpiece, Garner Ted Armstrong, became almost as totemic a figure for listeners as Horace Batchelor. Then, almost overnight, the station’s fortunes revived, thanks to commercial television and rock and roll. The success

of commercial television generated an advertising boom in which Luxy shared. And unlike the BBC, which was still resistant to socio-cultural change, it embraced rock and roll. Out went quiz shows and serials, in came wall-to-wall pop music, artfully presented by a stable of disc jockeys who included the following: Jack Jackson, Pete Murray, Keith Fordyce, Jimmy Young, Barry Alldiss, Alan Freeman, David Jacobs and Brian Matthew. Record companies like Decca and EMI, eager to promote their latest releases, were only too happy to sponsor programmes. It was on Luxy that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were heard for the first time. Another development that benefited Luxy was the portable transistor radio. Now you could ‘Make a date with 208’ under the bedclothes, in the bath or al fresco. But by 1967 there were other kids on the block: BBC Radio 1 and pirate stations such as Radio Caroline. In 1973 the pirates became legit and Luxy could no longer describe itself as ‘The Only Independent Station on the Air’. Its audience dwindled and so did its revenue. In 1992 it went off air for good. One thing still puzzles me. Young people, in my experience, didn’t do the pools. So why did Horace Batchelor advertise on Luxy? Answers, please, on a postcard addressed to Department One, Keynsham, spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M. Michael Barber

meandering about our land, to rejoin the sea’. Like Burt Lancaster, he cuts an eccentric figure, leaping into any body of water he can find, from ponds and lidos to fens and even canals. The book, offering an opportunity for eco one-upmanship, struck a chord with an inland population who are generally timid of water. Perhaps this is because illicit Deakin-style dips, which cock a snook at health and safety rules, can be acts of defiance against the nanny state. The movement gathered pace, spawning the Outdoor Swimming Society, a website, maps, events and even a manifesto: ‘We believe swimmers have too long been held in chlorinated captivity.’ But an older generation who remembers river swimming clubs and

lidos might wonder what is the big deal? The natural desire to bathe in hot weather in lakes, rivers, rock pools and abandoned quarries – but not stagnant water – is our birthright. Even the National Trust is recommending wild

‘Leave it out Charlie, after all, he has got a point , you are a son of a bitch’

swimming to cure the ‘nature deficit disorder’ afflicting our youngsters. But just as walkers now carry ski sticks and OS maps, so a new generation brand themselves ‘wild swimmers’. I too have always preferred furtive lone or family swims in wild places to the clinical rectangle of a swimming pool. Like Deakin, I hate ‘the frustration of endlessly doing lengths, and turning back on myself, like a tiger pacing its cage’. But perhaps this luxury cannot be afforded to everyone. And so, like most other wild swimmers, I’ve always kept quiet about it. It is better in our overcrowded isle to keep secret locations secret. But then I am an elitist. Too many wild swimmers will muddy the water. Our beleaguered wildlife is having a hard enough time already without cavorting wild swimmers causing mini-tsunamis

and upsetting the last breeding pair of lesser-spotted pratincoles. Of course, we are all searching for the same thing – the idea of washing away our sins and for that cosmic moment when we reconnect with nature. In Michael McCarthy’s new book, The Moth Snowstorm, he explores this idea of purity, citing the chalk streams of southern England as the epitome of the concept. But ‘access’ and ‘land use’ are today’s buzzwords. The countryside is a battleground. How much longer can a tiny elite of fly fishermen hold the line against the rights of wild swimmers and canoeists? Not to mention underwater metal-detectorists. The 19th-century nature writer Richard Jefferies wrote an essay entitled ‘Village Organisation’ (before indoor plumbing), in which he extols the virtues

of establishing bathing places near villages, long before the municipal swimming pool had been thought of. ‘The cottages of the labouring poor are often models of cleanliness, but the persons of the inhabitants precisely the reverse … a spot must be chosen near the village, but far enough away for decency.’ A how-to guide for parish councils even now. I can foresee a time when village bathing places will be provided by landowners in accordance with stringent new environmental directives for nitrate-free watercourses from our Friends in the European Union. A chance to show the taxpayer how grateful the absentee landlords are for their agricultural subsidies. Naturally, CCTV would have to be installed, to guard against paedophiles. Giles Wood

Raymond Briggs

Notes from the Sofa I still can’t believe it, yet here it is in front of me. A forty-page magazine about coffee! It’s called Caffeine – ‘the coffee lover’s magazine’. It is not for the trade but for us, the consumers. What on earth do we need to know about coffee? I’d much rather have a magazine about marmalade. On the cover are nine photographs of cups of coffee in various bleak environments and only one of them has human beings in it, far away in the distant background, smaller than the coffee cup. A heading says ‘FEEDING YOUR OBSESSION. Does Instagram offer more than endless photos of latte art?’ Latte art? What in heaven’s name is that? Marmaladart I could just about tolerate. Further joys are announced inside. There is to be a London Coffee Festival, held in trendy Brick Lane, in April. There is a dismal coffee-coloured Christmas card with a Festival offer for Caffeine readers: ‘2 VIP tickets for £70 (save £60).’ I don’t even understand that. I suppose it must be a joke. The writing about coffee tasting reads very like wine babble: ‘Rich cherry flavour, mild lemon acidity, heavy, almost chewy, rich chocolate and malt, almond and juicy raisin flavours. It ends up tasting like a sweet, milky, hot chocolate.’ So why not have a sweet, milky, hot chocolate in the first place? Much cheaper. Then there are BARISTAS. I’d vaguely

heard the word before and thought it was Italian barristers, but no, it’s a much more distinguished profession than a mere barrister, it is the title of someone whose profession is pouring hot water onto coffee grounds and thus making – wait for it ... Yes. You’ve got it! COFFEE! Fantastic! There are also ‘Latte Art Championships where you see some of the country’s best baristas compete’. Sit and watch a few blokes making coffee? Why on earth? One bar has created a drink ‘which is a blend of warmed cold brew, cranberry, sugar syrup and a sprinkle of Christmas spice in the form of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and star anise.’ So why bother with coffee then? In Stockholm, in the Kaffeverket, you

could try a cappuccino made using its Santa Rosa bean from Costa Rica, which employs a meticulous method of patio drying and revolutionary depulpers. I do believe in using a proper depulper, don’t you? ‘The taste was wonderfully layered, beginning with pecan and ending with a burst of plum and lemon.’ Well, why not have a nutty fruit salad and be done with it? This nonsense was brought about by two friends who seemed obsessed with coffee. I used to silently count the number of times they mentioned it and eventually said ‘Do you realise that you two have said the word “coffee” 27 times in the last hour and a half?’ This became a family joke and is now referred to as ‘the C word’. Later, they sent me the magazine to show they were not alone in this lunacy. At Christmas I thought I would give them a piece of coffee-making equipment, but I soon changed my mind. In the magazine is a picture of a ‘small Home Roaster from £600’, or ‘La Marzocco Linea Mini for £2,994’. And that’s just the mini, I was thinking of getting a proper one. So it will have to be just a book. If you are feeling religious, there is the Barista Bible, not priced, too holy I suppose, or Water for Coffee, £26.99. But perhaps, after all, I’ll just settle down with a slice of toast and marmalade and a mug of dear old Camp to bring me back to sanity before bedtime. The Oldie March 2016 13

oldie of the year At 99, she is the last survivor of Hollywood’s Golden Age

Olivia de Havilland roger lewis


ho else blushed so becomingly in Technicolor? On Christmas Day we watched The Adventures of Robin Hood, and my children wanted to know who this Maid Marian was, in her mauve and strawberry red costumes. She was such a babe, with a seriousness, a thoughtfulness; her eyes had the glisten of a gem, and whenever she saw Errol Flynn her face was filled with smiles – she had an erotic glow. Olivia de Havilland, the Maid Marian my children so admired, will be 100 in July, and is the oldest living Oscar winner. Through Stephen Fry, I contacted her in Paris, where she has lived for sixty years, and she agreed to answer my questions. The descendant of Norman barons who once owned Guernsey, she is the last survivor from Hollywood’s Golden Age, and whereas the other movie queens of that era – Hedy, Lana, Mae, Marlene, Greta, Gloria, Tallulah – now look exaggerated, artificial, almost like female impersonators, Olivia’s performances are fresh, natural and very modern: the poor girl’s descent into madness in The Snake Pit; the mother separated from her child in To Each His Own; the smiling and seemingly demure murderess in My Cousin Rachel; the vulnerable and cruel woman in The Heiress, dooming herself to loneliness. ‘Overnight success when you are very young is extremely disorientating,’ she told me, ‘and mine occurred in September 1934, when I was just eighteen. I went on stage at the Hollywood Bowl as Hermia in Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – in the film of which she is lost in the forest, her billowing, silvery grey dress torn and stained, and her big brown eyes burning with a gypsy quality. As a Hollywood star, she found herself subjected to a ‘brutally exhausting regime’ in which she was required to 14 The Oldie March 2016

Olivia de Havilland in Paris, with her Oldie award and her two Oscars

work six days a week, nine hours a day. ‘After a short break for lunch, you had to report back with hair in perfect order, make-up refreshed, and costume impeccable. On Saturdays we worked late ... you were at the mercy of the studio’s publicity department. To publicise Captain Blood I was photographed brandishing a sabre and garbed in ragged black shorts, knee-length black boots, a tattered shirt and a black pirate hat adorned with the skull and cross-bones – even though Errol Flynn was Captain Blood, the pirate, and I was Arabella, his innocent sweetheart.’ She regards Flynn as a ‘greatly underrated performer’, as became apparent ‘when we filmed the “balcony scene” in Robin Hood. He scales the castle wall, enters Maid Marian’s chambers and, lingering on her balcony, asks if she will join his band of merry men. The scene was set up with standins, and favouring Maid Marian. However Errol was so moving when he spoke his lines it was decided to change the lighting and camera positioning to favour him. I find his performance

as moving today as I found it then.’ ‘Studio heads could be cantankerous and unreasonable,’ she continued. ‘Jack Warner had such a reputation. He didn’t like to lend me to another studio, especially if it were for an important film in which I was cast in a favourable role. He claimed that when I returned to Warner’s I would be uppity. When he grudgingly loaned me to David Selznick to play Melanie in Gone With the Wind, I promised him that I would not become uppity. ‘When I returned to Warner Brothers I meekly played a supporting role in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex with Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, but when Jack refused me permission to attend the premiere of Gone With the Wind in Atlanta I finally became uppity and went.’ Irving Thalberg at Metro-GoldwynMayer, on the other hand, ‘was a wonderfully intelligent, talented man, with whom everyone wanted to work – Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Norma Shearer, Greer Garson, Lionel Barrymore. I worked with one of MGM’s directors, George Cukor, during the first days of shooting of Gone With the Wind. When he was replaced by Victor Fleming, Vivien and I secretly met with George on our days off to go over our scenes with him.’ In those days the standard studio contract was for seven years ‘but it could be suspended and extended if an actor refused to play a particular part. I took several suspensions without pay, and when my original agreement came to an end in May 1943, my extension time was prolonged indefinitely. The situation had become unendurable. A lawyer made it perfectly clear that Warner had no right to enforce my contract beyond its original seven-year period. Warner served an injunction on every studio in Hollywood preventing them from employing me while the case was before the courts. I won favourable decisions in

the Supreme Court of the state of California, and was free of my seven-year contract – as was every other actor and actress in Hollywood. I was free to work at any studio that offered me a suitable role – and none of my Academy Award nominations was for work done at Warner Brothers.’ Olivia played intelligent and sensitive women who wouldn’t be pushed around – or misbehave or expose themselves to

embarrassment. She is ladylike without prissiness, brittleness or attitudinising, but her dignity and refinement could be a mask for evil – as in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, where she drives ivory-faced devil doll Bette Davis over the edge, or The Dark Mirror, where she plays identical twins, one nice and kind, the other manipulative and dangerous. She was often required to lose her composure and scream with fear. Lady

in a Cage, one of her last films, could have been made by Buñuel. She is stuck in an lift during a power cut, and drunks and hoodlums desecrate her home. In the opening scenes she is immaculate. By the end she is crawling on the pavement – a cruel spectacle of degradation. Yet she is never broken. You always feel the intensity of emotion – an animal vitality beneath the manners and courtesy.

The other award winners Jeremy Hutchinson oldie of the year Life is unaccountably busy if you’re 100 – and if you’re Jeremy Hutchinson (Baron Hutchinson of Lullington QC to some). Old friends and acquaintances keep emerging from the woodwork, alerted to Jeremy’s recently rediscovered celebrity by his bravura appearance on Desert Island Discs and the publication of Thomas Grant’s Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories, which swooped onto the Sunday Times bestseller list and will be Waterstones’ Non-Fiction Paperback of the Month in February. There are talks still to be given: a Times event with Matthew Parris on 21st March and an appearance at the Dovedale Arts Festival on 11th June. Though no longer active in the Lords, Jeremy keeps a weather eye on Hansard whenever debates touch on criminal justice or changes to legal aid, and newspapers accumulate in well-thumbed shoals around his chair. So the short January days seemed barely long enough to keep abreast of the Test match from South Africa – knife-edged enough to put his pacemaker through its paces – and to cheer or berate Manchester United from the comfort of his armchair. Turning 101 in March offers no let-up. Jeremy’s Case Histories is being developed as a television drama, so there is that to consult on: his star turns in the Lady Chatterley and Romans in Britain trials will be re-enacted in Court No 1 of the Old Bailey, including his legendary ‘thumb in the groin’ performance which spelt the end of Mary Whitehouse’s legal

crusade. He is embarking on a new literary project, and – given his childhood on the fringes of Bloomsbury – may yet play some part in the centenary celebrations at Charleston Farmhouse. All in all, there is far too much going on to consider retirement. Ariane Bankes

Aung San Suu Kyi democrat of the year Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 swept the board in Burma’s first free elections since 1990. Prison, house arrest and separation from her family were part of the price she has had to pay to carry on her 25-year struggle. With exceptional courage this seventy-year-old woman has come through her ordeal and has won the admiration of both her own people and the free world. To an unusual degree England has always been Aung San Suu Kyi’s second country. Her instinctive understanding of English ways of thinking no doubt goes back to her days at the Methodist school in Rangoon and to her years living in Oxford, first as an oriental Zuleika Dobson at St Hugh’s College, then during life there after marriage to Michael Aris, England’s leading Tibetan scholar. Everything changed in 1988 when she went back to Burma to look after her ailing mother. Inevitably, as the daughter of Aung San, Burma’s leader at the time of independence in 1947 who was assassinated soon afterwards, she was drawn into politics. She soon emerged as the leader of opposition to the by then increasingly rough military regime.

Sunny days on Oxford lawns were replaced by a life of political activism and persecution. Her Buddhist faith sustained her and her non-violent perseverance prevailed, though the story is not over. ‘The Lady’ still has to take charge of her country, overcoming constitutional problems and lurking military opposition, and do her best to satisfy the expectations of her people, as well as settling the problem of the stateless Rohingya people. Aung San Suu Kyi is also the founding patron of the Irrawaddy Literary Festival which began in 2013 and which will take place in November this year. Giles FitzHerbert

Molly Meacher campaigner of the year Plenty of life still in the old uns, eh? Crossbench peer Molly Meacher, 75, delivered a useful lesson in bold parliamentary manoeuvres to whippersnapper statesmen last October. She tabled a successful Lords amendment which forced George Osborne, 44, to back down over tax credit changes, for which widely applauded act she is Oldie Campaigner of the Year. It is a fitting tribute in a career spent toiling in some of the less glamorous vineyards of public life: social work, mental health, clinical ethics, police complaints, drug law reform, even a stint advising the pre-Putin Russian government on employment reform. Others deserve some applause for calling the Chancellor’s bluff (Labour’s Patricia Hollis is also pretty hot on social security matters), but Lady Meacher The Oldie March 2016 15

Books Richard Davenport-Hines on Proust Xan Smiley on Julian Amery Valerie Grove on Jean Lucey Pratt Charles Keen on Airey Neave Duncan Fallowell on atheism in the ancient world Jane Ridley on the Romanovs Paul Keegan on audiobooks

For love of a tribe

RICHARD DAVENPORT-HINES Proust: The Search by Benjamin Taylor Yale £16.99


Oldie price £14.99 (+p&p) Call 01326 555 762

An intriguing man stands behind this latest of umpteen biographies of Marcel Proust. Leon D Black is a New York billionaire who began amassing his fortune as a mergers and acquisitions expert at Drexel Burnham Lambert before that investment bank was forced into bankruptcy. He then started a private equity business called Apollo Global Management. Its profits have enabled him to amass an art collection valued at $750 million and to buy the art publishers Phaidon Press. In addition to big-hitting donations to Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, Black has funded Yale University Press’s Jewish Lives project, which is publishing 100 succinct biographies of eminent Jews in beautifully produced volumes. Accounts of David, Jacob, Solomon, Trotsky, Einstein, Freud and others have already appeared. Disraeli, Bob Dylan, Groucho and Karl Marx, Moses and Barbra Streisand are among the co-religionists with forthcoming volumes. Proust would have been aroused by the phenomenon of Leon Black. The notion of Maecenas connoisseurs appealed to him. One of his earliest sponsors was Bertha Rothschild, whose son Alexandre 50 The Oldie March 2016

Berthier, Prince de Wagram, had by the age of 25 used his Rothschild income to buy 50 Renoirs, 47 van Goghs, 40 Monets and 28 Cézannes. Charles Swann, the noble-spirited but maltreated character who figures prominently in Proust’s novel, is a discerning Jewish millionaire. French critics often ignore Proust’s heritage. He qualifies by matrilineal descent for inclusion in the Jewish Lives series because his mother, with whom he was frantically obsessed, was a Jewess called Jeanne Weil. A stockbroker’s daughter, who never converted to her husband’s Catholicism, she was (in Taylor’s phrase) ‘the polyglot, musical, artistic and literary product of high Parisian juiverie’. In youth Proust kept ‘falling in love’ with members of ‘a tribe who seem preferable to one’s own’. These included Jacques Bizet, who like Proust had a Catholic father and Jewish mother, Reynaldo Hahn, son of a Catholic mother

‘I think some of them are just for show’

and Jewish father, and collectively with the family of Hugo Finaly, whom he later fictionalised as Sir Rufus Israels. Proust, who was born in 1871, was a vehement partisan in Dreyfus mania. In 1894 Alfred Dreyfus, the sole Jewish officer on the French General Staff, was convicted on spurious evidence of spying for Germany. For the next dozen years the flagrant injustices of the Dreyfus case transformed the primitive, thoughtless bigotry of French anti-Judaism into a doctrinaire and politicised mind-set called anti-Semitism. Proust was an intimate friend of some of France’s most eminent Jew-baiters, but for love of his mother he upheld the cause of Dreyfus. ‘Everyone,’ claims Taylor, ‘would have seen on young Marcel’s face the map of Zion.’ In 1902 Colette, who met him at the salon of Madame Arman de Caillavet (née Lippmann), called him ‘a young yid [youpin] of letters.’ In 1908 (aged 37) Proust began work on his great novel. Aesthetics, the Paris smart set, France’s provincial nobility and bourgeoisie, same-sex desire, timewasting, encroaching human decrepitude and the craving for artistic immortality were his great themes. He sacrificed his health, and accepted an early death in 1922, so as to accomplish that multivolume masterpiece known in English translation as In Search of Lost Time. Taylor considers it ‘the greatest novel ever written’. He analyses it with playful subtlety, but flinches from the disturbing parallels that the novel makes between Judaism and homosexuality as

persecuted, clandestine, protean, socially subversive sects. Instead, Taylor shows ‘petit Marcel’ as military conscript, asthmatic, dilettante, duellist, millionaire investor, martyred insomniac, morbid hypochondriac, effusive social climber and touchy recluse. Proust loved but did not desire women, and had unconsummated crushes on fit-looking dukes, affectionate waiters and a chubby, cheerful, cunning chauffeur called Alfred Agostinelli (who never submitted to an embrace, but was promised first a Rolls-Royce and then an aircraft). Benjamin Taylor’s brief life is immaculately executed. He writes with lithe concision, wry wit and deceptive lightness about his formidable and demanding subject. There are no cloying moments, but Taylor’s perceptive tenderness will bring tears to the eyes of dedicated Proustians. Every page has charm and acumen.

The under-achiever XAN SMILEY Last Imperialist: A Portrait of Julian Amery by Richard Bassett Stone Trough Books £21

Oldie price £18.50 (+p&p) Call 01326 555 762

I once asked Julian Amery, a few years before he died, what he had achieved in his long political life. ‘Nothing really,’ he said quite breezily. Then, after a pause, he muttered, ‘Except perhaps for the sovereign bases in Cyprus.’ As the title of his biography implies, hanging on to British real estate, as he liked to call it, was one of Amery’s abiding aims. So it is not surprising that it is a tale tinged heavily with disappointment. Just as the British empire waned remorselessly during Amery’s time in politics, so his own political fortunes dipped, as many of the imperialist causes he held dear went out of fashion, even within the Conservative Party. He last held office as a junior minister in the Foreign Office in March 1974, aged not quite 58. To the surprise and dismay of his admirers, he was never to achieve Cabinet rank. This was all the sadder for him because his correspondingly intense aim was to emulate and vindicate his father, Leo, who served in Cabinet in total for thirteen years, five as colonial secretary – in those days one of the greatest offices – and six as secretary of state for India. In an affectionate but judicious portrait, Richard Bassett describes how valiantly the younger Amery tried to uphold his father’s tenets, even when it was an

‘The Wreck of a Transport Ship’, oil on canvas, by J M W Turner From Young Mr Turner: The First Forty Years, 1775–1815 by Eric Shanes, Yale £85

increasingly quixotic task. Even when his father-in-law, Harold Macmillan, became prime minister, his star never rose higher. ‘Julian,’ said Macmillan, ‘was unduly influenced by his father.’ Yet the son battled on. After a fine record in war, fought largely in the Balkans, most dramatically in Albania, he took up the cause of Britain’s now increasingly shaky empire. Entering Parliament in 1950, he became a vociferous member of the ‘Suez Group’, which believed that Anthony Eden should have stuck to his guns and persevered with his Franco-BritishIsraeli campaign of 1956 to oust Nasser in Egypt and retain control of the canal. Thereafter Amery strove ceaselessly to slow down Britain’s withdrawal from east of Suez – and also from Africa south of it. A theme of the biography is Amery’s suspicion of the United States. This was fortified by Eden’s caving in to American pressure to drop the Suez venture. Especially throughout the Middle East, Amery continued to regard American policy as hostile to British interests and to the various monarchs whose favour Amery cultivated over the years, with considerable acumen. Bassett calls the chapter after the one on Suez ‘The Last

Anglo-American War?’. In it he describes how Amery as a junior minister for colonial affairs persuaded the government, under Macmillan, to back the Sultan of Oman in suppressing a revolt that was stoked up by the Americans and Saudis. It was a rare success in his mission to retain British influence east of Suez. Matching his aversion to America’s looming hegemony as Britain declined was his love of France, acquired through an adored French nanny. At the same time, he exulted in the intricate politics of eastern Europe and the Balkans. As the Conservatives fell out of love with the idea of Europe, he stuck loyally to what he would quote as Churchill’s hope for a ‘close union of sovereign states’ across the continent. The creation of the Anglo-French Concorde aircraft owed much to Amery, who eagerly promoted the idea as minister of aviation. Bassett also makes much of Amery’s habit of ignoring or even flouting whatever was deemed to be the Foreign Office policy of the day. ‘I wouldn’t worry about Julian,’ Macmillan is said to have quipped. ‘He has his own Foreign Office.’ This penchant, developed when he was a young man roaming the Balkans The Oldie March 2016 51

Literary Lunches

In association with

At Simpson’s-in-the-Strand and Literary Festivals Hosted by Barry Cryer

For 7th June and Buxton details go to


Bel Mooney

on Lifelines Bel Mooney’s Daily Mail advice column reaches six million people a week. Some of her compassionate and unflinchingly honest words of good counsel – on love, loss, break-ups and breakdowns – are gathered together here for the first time.

Andrew Lownie

on Stalin’s Englishman: the Lives of Guy Burgess Andrew Lownie has written the first full biography of the Cambridge spy. He follows Burgess’s journey through Eton, Cambridge and the Foreign Office, as he betrayed British Intelligence – but insisted on being buried in Hampshire.

Quentin Letts

on The Speaker’s Wife This is political sketch writer Quentin Letts’s first novel. But instead of setting it in the House of Commons, Letts has written a ‘love song to the grand old Church of England’, as he follows the unravelling life of the Rev Tom Ross.


Nicholas Parsons

on Welcome to Just a Minute! A Celebration of Britain’s Best-Loved Radio Comedy Nicholas Parsons recently soared past his ninetieth birthday, and Just a Minute has reached its 900th episode. Parsons, who has appeared in every episode, recalls the best, the most awkward and the most outrageously hilarious moments on the show.

Jeremy Lewis

on David Astor The Oldie’s own Jeremy Lewis will be speaking about his forthcoming biography of David Astor. As owner and editor of the Observer, Astor ushered in a new era of liberal journalism. Known best for his denunciation of the Suez fiasco in 1956 and his early admiration for Nelson Mandela, Astor at last gets the posthumous recognition he deserves.

Lucy Lethbridge

on Spit and Polish Lucy Lethbridge turns her hand to housework in her new book. Combining a history of labour-intensive 19th-century cleaning methods with startlingly simple tips such as stewing a stick of rhubarb as a means of cleaning a stained enamel saucepan, Lethbridge shows us that the best solutions still involve the simplest of household items.


Vince Cable

on After the Storm The former Business Secretary was a lone voice when he gave repeated warnings about an international crisis a decade ago – which he covered in The Storm. His latest book covers his period as a senior member of the Coalition Government to which he brought some badly needed realism.

Virginia Ironside

on No Thanks! I’m Quite Happy Standing! One of The Oldie’s top columnists, agony aunt and creator of one-woman show Growing Old Disgracefully, Virginia Ironside returns with the second instalment of the Marie Sharp series. It charts the progress of the ‘groovy granny’, now 69 but not slowing down, while offering an hilarious and touching look at getting older.

Juliet Nicolson

on A House Full of Daughters The latest book from the daughter of Nigel Nicolson and granddaughter of Sir Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West delves into her exuberant family as she sifts through fact and fiction, myth and legend, to uncover the secrets of seven generations of women, from 19thcentury Malaga to 1960s Chelsea.



23rd March: Bridge Day 13th April: Drawing Day

Chalke Valley: 30th Jun  Holt: 20th Jul  Buxton: 24th Jul  Rye: 21st Sep  Chester: 19th Oct

Recordings now online

at The East India Club, London SW1

7th Jun  5th Jul  13th Sep  11th Oct  8th Nov  13th Dec



9.30am–3pm Monday to Friday and ask for Katherine or Jenny, or email SIMPSON’S TICKET PRICE: £65 for a three-course lunch including wine or soft drinks

Fish and vegetarian options available on advance request Meet the speakers from 12 noon; lunch at 1pm 58 The Oldie March 2016

Arts Joy (12A) sounded a less than joyous proposition, and not for the first time I only went because my sixteen-year-old daughter advised me to. She has an old head on young shoulders, and a glint in her eye you don’t challenge. The decision, I realised, had already been made. This is the latest film from writerdirector David O Russell, who gave us the rambling and faintly unsatisfactory Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and the self-indulgent and deeply unsatisfactory American Hustle (2013). He is a filmmaker, one gets the impression, whose favourite films are his own. The atmosphere is always heightened, the acting is turned up to eleven and a perennially raised eyebrow crushes suspension of disbelief like an ant underfoot. American Hustle, in particular, made fun of the 1970s in a way that made no sense to anyone who remembered the 1970s, and was laden with awards for its trouble. Joy has many of the same actors from these two films, and a similar tone. But unlike them it has a proper story, and this makes all the difference. Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy, a young woman, bright, ambitious, full of ideas, who has ended up working in a dead-end job to carry her large and useless family. Her ex-husband lives in the basement, her mother lies in bed all day watching soap operas on TV, and her father, Robert de Niro, now moves in as well, having been thrown out by his girlfriend. Joy’s talent is design: she invents things, and one day she comes up with the idea of a self-wringing mop. She builds a prototype with the help of employees at

Sadly no romantic pay-off: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Joy

her father’s garage, and persuades his rich new girlfriend, Isabella Rossellini, to invest in it. From there, armed with only determination and Jennifer Lawrence’s talent and charm as a performer, Joy heads for the newly created QVC shopping channel, run by Bradley Cooper. These are the best sequences in the film. Can QVC’s best salesman flog her revolutionary mop? If he fails, will Joy get a second chance to sell it herself? It’s as gripping as a thriller, and you squirm in your seat as you will her to succeed. But do we believe it? Yes, oddly, we do, because something like this did happen. A woman called Joy Mangano did invent a self-wringing mop in the early 1990s, did sell it on shopping channels, and did become hugely rich and successful as a result. David O Russell has gilded the lily rather, with lashings of eccentricity, colour and brightness, but he also has Jennifer Lawrence to keep it real and

make us care. What an exceptional actress she has become. Bradley Cooper, too, is superb, and they work so well together that you’re almost disappointed that there’s no romantic pay-off in their relationship. The film falls apart somewhat in the final reel — you always know things are going wrong when the heroine cuts her long hair off in the mirror with kitchen scissors — but more clichés are resisted than embraced, and Robert de Niro isn’t as terrible as he has been for some considerable time. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens (12A). I had my thirteen-year-old boy in tow, which probably helped. (Afterwards he whispered, ‘That was even better than I ever expected.’) What’s already clear is that this new trilogy will be only a very slight variation on all previous trilogies. History repeats itself, and so do Star Wars films. Only people who don’t like them would want them any other way.




The Oldie March 2016 59



GARDENING DAVID WHEELER THE SAP RISES March is my big ‘doing’ month, the few weeks when so much can be done to prepare for warmer – better? – days ahead. I’m a late-pruner when it comes to roses. Having reduced top growth in late autumn to prevent them being knocked about by winter gales, I now shorten many of them, the rugosas especially, back to about eight inches of old growth. This second (delayed) cut strongly stimulates vigorous new shoots as well as keeping plants to a reasonable size. I no longer grow hybrid teas (they were a teenage obsession), but reckon the double autumn/spring prune performs similar magic. There are exceptions. The highly scented Rosa californica plena, which I grow in clumps out in the woodland, are left unpruned for periods of five or six years – until all their ‘show’ is too tall to be seen or appreciated. Being tough ol’ girls they then get severely hacked to about eighteen inches, promoting another succession of gloriously fragrant summer displays within reach of everyone’s nostrils. March is also my mulching month. Our eight cultivated acres produce masses of life-enhancing compost. Like Sisters of Mercy – holy ones, not members of the Seventies gothic rock band – dishing out prayers for the ‘poor, sick and uneducated’, my garden helper and I on a blowy day in double harness barrow-up great loads of the stuff and generously distribute it among young trees and shrubs. When they are well watered-in (but do we need any more rain just yet?) you can almost hear the plants give thanks. As sap rises, the plant can heartily absorb the compost’s many nutrients just

when they’re most needed, and while the ground is still wet (did I hear you say ‘thoroughly sodden’?) a few spadefuls will help preserve vital moisture around its roots during the coming (dryer, please) summer months. And it’s in March, too, that a gardener’s own sap begins to rise. It’s a full-on month, with jobs to be done with renewed energy, new plants to be sourced, and a cornucopia of the established garden’s wealth to be savoured and enjoyed. For many of us it’s payback time. Remember that little magnolia you bought for the front garden at what seemed like an exorbitant amount of money twenty years ago? Do you recall those seedling hellebores, pulsatillas and primulas that you so lovingly and painstakingly dispersed throughout your beds and borders? Now look at them: numerous waxy pink goblets on the mature magnolia (if they’ve escaped the frost) and a luminosity of rich colour around its feet to cheer the saddest of hearts on an Easter morning. I’m loath to leave home in March, but this year I’ll be spending a third of it in north Africa. As I wander the souks, worm myself into secret paradise gardens

One of the sweet-scented viburnums in David Wheeler's springtime garden

and look for floral treasures in the Atlas mountains, I’ll be dreaming of home. Dreaming of my flaming azaleas bursting into flower, wondering if the newly planted blue-flowered rhododendrons are showing their lapis hues, imagining the sweet scent of some fifty viburnums that edge a path through my small arboretum. How, I wonder, will the greenhouse survive without my manic fiddlings? Should I not have stayed at home to raise vegetable seedlings, chit the spuds and dispense ever more mulch? No, travel extends my all-consuming gardening life. I don’t do beach holidays any more or go shopping in big cities. I wander where I do because of an incurable lust for plants and gardens – a lust that also rewards me with new ideas, new momentum and new friends. Excepting many pain-free and active years ahead, could one ask for more?

KITCHEN GARDEN SIMON COURTAULD THE LEEK In the Middle Ages a kitchen garden was known as a leac-tun, or leek enclosure, and the man who looked after it was a leac-weard, the leek keeper. At this time of year, in almost every allotment garden in town and country, rows of leeks are the most common sight, and perhaps the only vegetable still standing. In my own kitchen garden there are stems of chard and spinach beet looking distinctly unhappy in the cold ground, but they should soon start growing again. Our leeks, however, have provided food throughout the winter, though a few have begun to bolt, due to the unseasonably warm month of December. The effect of this is to give the leeks a hard centre that needs to be cut out when they are lifted. Depending on the weather and if there are any left, we may continue to The Oldie March 2016 67

‘Sorry pal, I’m a stranger here myself’

directors on expenses, who shielded our view of a middle-aged man in a T-shirt molesting a much younger girl. As if the worst dinner party ever couldn’t get worse, we submitted to the eight-course tasting menu for £120 each plus the generous matching wine selection for a further £95 each. I know. Still didn’t kill the pain of Hans and Ulrich bellowing ‘Va-va-voom!’ Sticky Walnut, 11 Charles Street, Hoole, Chester;; 01244 400400; £45 a head for three courses and wine. Marcus, The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London SW1; www.marcus-wareing. com; 020 7235 1200; five-course lunch £49; three-course dinner £85.

WINE BILL KNOTT THE COCKTAIL HOUR Regular readers will know that I yield to nobody in my love for the fermented juice of grapes, but there are times in life – even times of the day – when only a cocktail will hit the spot. Martini hour springs to mind: 6pm or thereabouts. So much has been written about dry martinis that I will restrict myself to a few pertinent observations. First – and contrary to popular opinion – James Bond didn’t have a clue about the martini. It should be stirred, not shaken, and the spirit should be gin. It is (just about) permissible to use vodka, but that makes a vodkatini; similarly, just because a drink is served in a martini glass – watermelon martini, espresso martini, etc – does not make it

a martini. Secondly, the mania for ever-drier martinis (the vermouth dispensed as a light mist by aerosol, for instance) is becoming tiresome. One should not drown the gin, of course, but a good vermouth – Noilly Prat, for example – adds herbal notes and just a hint of sweetness. The last line of Tom Lehrer’s sublime paean to further education, ‘Bright College Days’, springs to mind: ‘Hearts full of youth / Hearts full of truth / Six parts gin to one part vermouth.’ Martinis are easy enough to make at home, even without a cocktail shaker: just stir the gin and vermouth in a jug with plenty of hard ice and press the tea strainer into service. Make sure your glasses have spent an hour or two in the freezer; garnish with olives, lemon zest or (my particular favourite) pickled little silverskin onions, which make it a Gibson. The Negroni is even simpler to make: one part gin, one part sweet red vermouth and one part Campari, stirred together in a generously proportioned tumbler with plenty of ice and a strip of orange zest.

‘Do you have anything for laryngitis?’

The genius of the Negroni lies in its use of alcohol as a mixer. Its origins (as with many cocktails) are shrouded in the alcoholic vapours of time, but the most popular version concerns the self-styled ‘Count’ Camillo Negroni, a patron of a bar in Florence called Caffè Casoni (now named Caffè Giacosa, should you wish to go and pay homage). The Count, fancying a punchier aperitif than an Americano, asked the barman, Fosco Scarselli, to replace the soda water with gin: for the cocktail aficionado, this is the epiphanic equivalent of Archimedes jumping from his tub, or Alexander Fleming realising what that mould in his Petri dish was. The Negroni is very trendy at the moment (but don’t let that put you off): a double-denimed Shoreditch hipster loves nothing more than sipping one of Count Camillo’s masterpieces through a gap in his facial hair. Many different concoctions now call themselves a Negroni: I ordered one a few months ago that arrived water-clear in the glass, not the usual pleasing crimson, with a sprig of thyme lolling from its rim. I took a sip. ‘Is this even made with gin?’ I asked the serious young man behind the bar. ‘No, sir, it’s rum.’ ‘Then it’s not a Negroni,’ I insisted, in my small-minded and reactionary way. ‘It’s our take on the Negroni,’ he replied. In fact, you can make a perfect Negroni with common or garden gin, Martini Rosso and Campari. You might employ Punt e Mes, Antica Formula or the tricky-to-find Noilly Prat Red as the sweet vermouth, but it isn’t necessary; it is a cocktail that, like all good recipes for food and drink, is greater than the sum of its parts. As is the Old Fashioned, invented (and this is unchallenged, as far as I know) by a barman at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Although, as its origins might suggest, it is traditionally made with bourbon, it is really a way of perking up any brown spirit – whisky, rum, brandy – with bitters, sugar and orange. Stir together a few drops of water, three drops of Angostura bitters and a teaspoon of demerara sugar in a tumbler, then add a little of the spirit and a couple of ice cubes. Slowly add more spirit and more ice, and keep stirring, until the glass is full. Take a generous strip of zest from an orange – purists will turn it over and remove any pith – and poke it into the drink. As an after-dinner cocktail, it is rivalled only by hot buttered rum: but more of that another time. The Oldie March 2016 69

On this island I thee wed The beautiful Baltic haven of Aero was in decline until it became the Gretna Green of Denmark. By Rosie Boycott

Sun, sea, sand and ... romance. Aero has taken advantage of Denmark's liberal marriage laws to attract a new kind of tourist



hy get married in Las Vegas when you can do it in Denmark?’ The chunky headline in a recent New York Times was certainly eye-catching, but for me it was much more than that. The Danish town in question, where weddings are booming, is Aeroskobing, on the tiny southern Baltic island of Aero, where my sister has lived since 1968, raising her five children, and still there eleven years after her Danish husband died. To say that Aero is an unlikely place to generate such excitable headlines is an understatement. When my sister went there in the late Sixties, to live in a dilapidated farmhouse that her architect husband had bought as a holiday home,

there were 10,000 people living on Aero. Today, there are 6,000. There are precious few jobs, no real industry and even tourism struggles. But for me and various other members of my family and friends, Aero is a very special place indeed. The twenty-mile long, two- to three-mile-wide island is ringed by perfect sandy beaches. In summer the shallow, low-saline Baltic creates the best swimming I’ve ever known. A cycle track rings the island, heaven for someone like me who hates hills, of which there are none – just gentle undulations, as the bike path meanders through fields of fat cows and tall corn, and past black-and-white farmhouses built around cobbled courtyards. Aeroskobing is the main town, and one

of Unesco’s most treasured world heritage sites. Cobbled streets of brightly coloured houses lead down to the harbour where the ferries arrive from the mainland every two hours or so, bringing cars and people, food, furniture and cyclists. It’s sleepy, safe and, until a couple of years ago, it was on its uppers. House prices had dropped to £40,000 or £50,000 for a four-bedroom brick home, young people had no option but to leave, and the useful shops in Aeroskobing, like the butcher or the grocer, had all shut, leaving a handful of tourist outlets and a single discount supermarket on the harbour front. Enter the weddings. Originally the brain child of the mayor, the idea was pushed forward by Louisa Moloney, The Oldie March 2016 73

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The Oldie March 2016  
The Oldie March 2016