So I bought the New Statesman‘s 100 years archive edition for the schlep back to Yorkshire – actually I wanted the Flight International Christmas quiz but I was too embarrassed to be seen buying it without an excuse – and damn, was I disappointed. In fact, I made brief notes on each piece.
Unsurprisingly, Kingsley Martin’s interview of Winston Churchill in 1939 is pretty good. Paul Johnson literally thought the Beatles would cause communism. James Joyce’s letter to a friend in the style of Finnegans Wake is interesting. Christopher Hitchens complains that the Prince of Wales’ secretary went to Cambridge, presumably rather than Oxford like he did. Seamus Heaney does a good snapshot of Belfast that won’t tell you anything you wouldn’t have learned from the papers…until you realise he wrote it in 1966, when it would have done.
John Strachey interviews Nehru in 1955 and talks about handloom weaving a lot. Virginia Woolf reviews a new edition of Sir Walter Scott, in a Woolfy fashion, to no particular point. An anonymouse says David Ben Gurion is awesome. Philip Larkin whines that people come to the library in their cars, and these book-reading moocher scum ought to be billed. Suzanne Moore thinks women, as a political nation, are too hard on Naomi Wolf, and then decides that if you can’t beat’em you should join’em.
Gore Vidal considers Cecil Beaton, and concludes he is a mere producer of amusing celebrity half-art, in an exercise of sustained hypocrisy. Laurie Penny mourns Terry Pratchett, in a piece that is actually good and that has a proper lede (that I won’t spoil). George Bernard Shaw is asked to obituarise H.G. Wells, and whines meanspiritedly that Wells achieved success faster than he did.
Anthony Howard is pretty OK on 60s politics. James Fenton embarrasses himself comprehensively with a piece on Margaret Thatcher in 1977 that is egregiously sexist, smug-clever, and predicts she will never be Prime Minister because she doesn’t win enough PMQs points. Michael Cockerill talks about Tony Blair, which is mostly interesting because it is the earliest piece of writing I know that quotes anyone calling him a war criminal, and it’s from 2000.
John Berger on Picasso is good. Clive James is awful and most of his jokes apply mostly to himself. Will Self does his shtick, yawn. Angela Carter is pretty good; Jemima Khan is pablum; Stephen Spender announces that the “extreme Left critics of Stalinism” have been proved wrong, in June, 1956. Malcolm Muggeridge “first met Charles de Gaulle in 1941, in the lift of the Connaught Hotel”. Now there’s a humblebrag! Mary Riddell does a red meat chomping NHS scare piece in 2001 or thereabouts.
Brian Glanville on Malcolm X is good; VS Pritchett is good; JK Galbraith on Nixon is stylish, contains facts, and is wrong on all points. Conor Cruise O’Brien asks how much Yeats believed in fascism and concludes quite a bit, but Céline. Alistair Campbell interviews Alex Ferguson, because Uncle Jim fixed it for him or something. Auberon Waugh is surprisingly good and makes a strong case for libel reform. Labour MP John Freeman, writing for the New Statesman, argues that Nye Bevan was a great bloke. Nora Seyre rips into Ayn Rand with venom. Christopher Isherwood goes to the Chinese civil war. Orwell wasn’t at all interesting. Somehow I flipped past Rebecca West on Kipling, which might have been interesting.
I make that 11 hits out of 36.
The following parties took advertising: IBM (cloud computing), a 3D printing company, Cambridge Silicon Radio, American Express, BP, an energy storage firm, the E-Cigarette Association, Arsenal FC (for corporate boxes), a company that builds huge basements in London, King’s College London (for MBAs), Rolls-Royce (cars, not aero-engines), Killik & Co Stockbrokers, a property management company, a posh hotel chain, another property management company, jewellery.
This may explain why there are TWO MORE VOLUMES of this stuff, rather than, say, picking one-third as many stories.