31 August 2013

A ‘Quick and Dirty’ for Excel® dates before 1900

When working on the next post, which is about the ages of British Sovereigns and Prime Ministers (PMs), I came up against one of the limitations of the Excel® spreadsheet, namely that it can’t calculate dates prior to 1900. A sophisticated way of overcoming this restriction can be found here, but for my purposes I wanted something simpler. What follows is the ‘Quick and Dirty’ method I adopted, explained below as a simple spreadsheet.

In Line 3 the columns for the current PM show his birthdate and the date he took office. Cameron’s age at the time is then provided by the YEARFRAC function as shown.

Line 4 shows the same data for Harold Macmillan. Excel does not recognise his birthdate in 1894 and YEARFRAC returns a query.

This problem is overcome in Line 5 by adding 300 years to Macmillan’s dates, and YEARFRAC can then calculate his age when he first became PM.

As a check, in Line 6, after the same transformation to Cameron’s dates, YEARFRAC returns the same result as at Line 3.


1. I only wanted results for age in years to one decimal place. The transformation will not be accurate if values in whole days are required because of Leap Year effects, as shown in Column E.
2. I used a 300 year increment because of the earliest date I was working with: 15 March 1779 (the birthdate of Queen Victoria’s first PM, Viscount Melbourne). I wanted to place all the transformed dates well in the future, so 200 years wouldn’t have been enough.
3. Fortunately all my dates were after the introduction of the Gregorian calendar (1752 in England).
4. Excel treats 1900 as a Leap Year – it wasn’t. However, none of my dates were for that year and at my required level of accuracy, again it wouldn’t matter.

Finally, if anyone does find this method useful (or useless for that matter), feel welcome to leave a comment.

22 August 2013

Pascal Bonitzer’s ‘Looking for Hortense’

The original French title of this film was Cherchez Hortense, which must have presented a problem for the translators. Literally “Search for Hortense” (in the imperative), the meaning, in terms of the plot, is more like “Get Hold of Hortense” or, even less directly, “Contact Hortense”. The story could probably be described well enough as “Damien Sorts Himself Out”.

Damien Hauer (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a middle-aged Parisian academic specialising in Far Eastern culture. His partner Iva (Kristin Scott Thomas, KST) is a theatre director. He agrees to help Aurore, the young acquaintance of their friends, whose presence in France is illegal. Damien, despite his uneasy relationship with his parents, seeks the assistance of his father who is one of the présidents de section at the Conseil d'État, advisers to the French government on the application of administrative law. His father eventually declines to approach the highly influential Henri Hortense on the matter, so Damian practices a mild deception and secures a meeting with Hortense which turns out to be inconclusive. While all this is going on, Damian has serious domestic problems, one of his friends becomes suicidal, and he gets into a couple of other scrapes. At the end a solution to Aurore’s problem, which might also solve one of his own, becomes apparent.

I thought the film was better than most of its reviews but had two main problems. The scriptwriting would have benefited from some of the meanderings being removed, but more seriously the casting was at odds with the ages of the characters. Damien says he first went to China just after graduating, a year or so before Tiananmen Square (1989). He should therefore have been in his mid-forties at the time of filming (2011). However, Bacri was born in 1951 and looks as though he has lived most of the years since to the full, whereas KST, born 1960, has no problem in passing herself off as ten years younger. Bacri’s looks are consistent with those of Claude Rich who plays the father, Sébastien, but Rich was born in 1929! Damien’s friends are too old as well. About the right age (his birthdate is unknown to the internet, but his acting career began in 1973) is Philippe Duclos as Hortense. His portrayal of slippery intelligence is familiar on BBC4 in the form of juge d'instruction (examining magistrate) François Roban in the Spiral series (Engrenages). Hortense is quite a few layers further up in Parisian society than Roban, and has a house in the place des Etats-Unis with a magnificent jardin d’hiver. The location for Damien’s lectures, it seems from IMDb, was a conference room at the French communist party HQ.

Bonitzer (born 1946!) is an eminent figure in French cinema, a former critic for Cahiers du cinéma, biographer of Eric Rohmer and scriptwriter and director (or both) for numerous films. His daughter, Agathe plays Laetitia. Not surprisingly, Looking for Hortense is in the New Wave tradition of French realism, nicely shot in Paris and worth seeing if you like that kind of film.

19 August 2013

McGehee and Siegel’s ‘What Maisie Knew’

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of this captivating film. Whether Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s version of What Maisie Knew should be described as “based upon”, as opposed to “inspired by”, Henry James’s novel is something for those whose opinions on literary matters are weightier than mine.

Maisie is a seven-year old child in Manhattan with a rock star mother (Julianne Moore) and an art dealer father (Steve Coogan) whose marriage is falling apart. Unlike the audience, she is too young to realise the contrast between the affluence they lavish on her and their selfish neglect. Nor does she fully understand her good luck in the form of the two carers (Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham) her parents light upon and unintentionally bring together. Maisie’s mother finally shows signs of realising her own limitations and what might be best for her daughter, which is more than can be said for the father. All five of the main parts are well-played, particularly Onata Aprile’s Maisie. Disconcertingly the trailer for Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa preceded this particular screening of What Maisie Knew. Hardly Coogan’s fault, but the juxtaposition undermined the relative subtlety of his performance as Maisie’s father.

What Maisie Knew held my attention more thoroughly than most films: once a parent, always a parent, perhaps. Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright’s intelligent script is touching while avoiding cute sentimentality, yielding a film which for some divorced parents may be uncomfortable viewing , possibly enough to undermine the objectivity of a few of the UK reviews later this week. In the longer term, it seems a doubtful Oscar candidate, likely to trouble consciences of some in Hollywood while not being schmaltzy enough for others, but I hope to be proved wrong.

17 August 2013

‘Laura Ashley: The Romantic Heroine’ in Bath

Almost a year ago a post appeared here full of admiration for Stephen Bayley. In passing, I mentioned Bayley’s connection with Terence Conran and that a set of Habitat catalogues from 1971 to 1988, which I had just given away, were “invaluable references for period set designs – the way we lived then”. Now I’ve had a reminder of the way girls dressed then.

I have to admit that Bath’s Fashion Museum has never tempted me to enter (despite its free admission for Art Fund members) but I’m glad I was induced to see Laura Ashley: The Romantic Heroine before it closes on 26 August. The exhibition marks the coincidence in 2013 of the Museum’s 50th anniversary and the Laura Ashley company’s 60th.  Bath was also the location of one of the first shops that Laura Ashley opened outside London. 

What can a mere male eye discern? Well, there are lots of frocks in the styles that made Laura Ashley so successful about 40 years ago, some donated by their original owners together with anecdotes about their purchase. Interestingly many of the donors had bought them as university students at a time when less than 15% of their age group went to university and women were in the minority. And while it has to be admitted that these ladies may no longer be able to slip into (or out of) these heirlooms of their salad days, the dress sizings of that time are sad evidence of the UK’s current obesity epidemic. A reminder of which came in the substantial forms of the three young women, all born well after the Ashley era, who barged past me in the Museum café shortly afterwards.

I well remember being encouraged to go to Laura Ashley’s Fulham Road shop (described above) - upstairs, not the basement.  I certainly wouldn’t have forgotten “a seething, hot and bothered mass of partially-clothed young women” as Joan Gould recalls.

After Bath, the exhibition travels to the opposite end of the country and will be at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham in NE England from 21 September to 5 January 2014.

16 August 2013

Laura Knight at the NPG

This is Laura Knight’s third appearance in a post here within a year. A touring exhibition of her landscapes, in the open air, was followed by Summer in February, a film set in Cornwall (SW England) before the First World War among the Newlyn group of artists which included Laura and her husband. Now the National Portrait Gallery in London has put on a small show of her portraits.

Almost the first painting in the exhibition is from her Cornish period, Rose and Gold (1914, above). Unexpectedly it had links to the last exhibition posted about here, A Crisis of Brilliance at Dulwich. Firstly, the painting probably shows the extent of the influence on Knight’s style of the Roger Fry Post-Impressionist exhibitions whose impact is so evident in A Crisis of Brilliance. Secondly, the sitter for Rose and Gold was the artist’s model, Dolly Henry, who was shot dead shortly after the picture was finished by her lover, John Currie. He then committed suicide. A Slade student, one of his paintings, Some Later Primitives and Madame Tiscaron (1912), is in the Dulwich show. Fans of Summer in February will probably like Lamorna Birch and His Daughters (1916, finished in 1933, below).

After Cornwall, the exhibition is grouped into areas which reflect Knight’s inter-war interests: theatre and ballet, (the concert pianist, Ethel Bartlett (1926) in the poster above) and gypsies and circuses. Another pre-war section, Baltimore, consists of paintings and drawings of black Americans made in 1927, when she and her husband worked in the USA. Between 1942 and 1945 she worked on commissions for the War Artists Advisory Committee (see A Balloon Site, Coventry (1943) in the earlier post on the landscape exhibition). I was pleased to see RUSI’s Corporal Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner (1941, left) again. The Imperial War Museum’s The Nuremburg Trial (1946) is doubling as a portrait after its outing as a landscape (again, earlier post).

The exhibition ends with a selection of Knight’s portraits, often commissioned, which demonstrate her skill as a figurative painter (perhaps not at its best in the case of George Bernard Shaw (1933)). That facility was matched by her lack of interest in modernism and possibly helps explain the lack of interest in her work after her death in 1970. It is surprising, given her fight for recognition as a woman artist – the first modern woman RA – and her enthusiasm for portraying high-achieving women, that she never seems to have been regarded as an icon by feminists. Brian Sewell, who disliked this exhibition, calls her a “Very much the “anything you can do I can do better” sort of woman”, and describes at some length how little her work was fetching shortly after her death. Although he has little time for most of the works in the show, he ends:
That I quite liked Laura Knight seriously affects my view of this exhibition. I could have put together a show of paintings — her best in all her genres — that would not have disgraced her; it would not have been truthful, for it would have eliminated all the dross, but it would have been far more entertaining for the visitor to whom she is a stranger, and it would have honoured her. This shoddy little show is a disgrace.
He also comments:
Restricted to her portraits, this [exhibition] unwittingly demonstrates the damage that can be done to a forgotten painter’s reputation when only a single branch of a lifetime’s work is plucked from obscurity like this, and I am inclined to argue that the NPG has done Laura Knight a mortal damage, that no one to whom her name and work are new will ever want to see more of it.
Perhaps because of having seen the landscapes last year as well as these portraits, I am looking forward unreservedly to the Knight retrospective that Dulwich Picture Gallery are planning for 2015. Who knows, the curator may now be seeking Mr Sewell’s advice.

Laura Knight Portraits continues at the NPG until 13 October and will subsequently tour to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle (2 November 2013 – 16 February 2014) and Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery (1 March – 10 May 2014) (SW England).


Andrew Lambirth in the Spectator on 7 September took a much more sympathetic view of this exhibition than Sewell.

14 August 2013

Silly Season, n’est-ce pas?

The British newspapers call August the silly season – all the people who matter are away including the senior editorial staff – and some funny stories get run. This year the Guardian is probably well out in front with Suzanne Moore’s 10 rules for managing your penis, but there’s still time for the others to catch up.

The Times last week led its second section, Times 2 with a typical silly season filler from its energetic Paris correspondent, Adam Sage, about the identity crisis engulfing French men. It seemed to have spurred an editorial identity crisis as well: the Times 2 cover (left) was Sacré bleu! French men in crisis, the story inside being headed The Secret’s out: French men have feelings too, but on The Times website (£) the same piece was more racily titled ‘She came, she bonked, she left’ - new generation of assertive women create a crisis of virility for French men.

Alongside Sage’s article there was an amusing table (right) contrasting the attitudes to wine, women and other things of what were identified as the Traditional and the New Frenchman. A couple of the topics echoed the content of posts here. In July I commented on the film Before Midnight:
Finally, why is Jesse so messily dressed? Unlikely for an author in his forties with an international reputation living in Paris – surely Celine would have taken him to Le Bon Marché!
According to The Times, however:
The traditional Frenchman buys his clothes from Le Bon Marché, the department store on the Left Bank.  
The new Frenchman buys his clothes in American Apparel in the Marais on the Right Bank.
All I will say is that the shops in the Marais are on the small side compared with the new basement in Le Bon Marché – but it might explain the modernisation of the latter, posted about last year.

I can well believe from my own observations that:
The traditional Frenchman holidays at his €700,000 villa in Le Cap-Ferret on the Atlantic Coast.  
The new Frenchman spends his holidays trying to restore the disused farmhouse he bought for €70,000 in the village of his ancestors in La Creuse département in central France.
Cap Ferret in SW France was one of the settings for Guillaume Canet’s 2010 film, Little White Lies, posted about here two years ago. I prefer the Ile de Ré!


13 August 2013

Crosby and Messina

The amount of effort that the Tories are already putting into campaigning - a stream of media novelties (urging fracking and cycling on one day alone) - you would think that they are planning for an election earlier than 2015.

Last week there was a flurry of interest among the commentariat after the recruitment by the Conservatives of an American, Jim Messina, to join the Australian, Lynton Crosby who is already providing them with strategic campaign advice. In the Financial Times on 6 August, Janan Ganesh was dismissive of what he called “jet-setting political consultants” who reputedly believe “that that a foreign country is just like another swing state”:
The first law of politics is that almost nothing matters. Voters barely notice, much less are they moved by, the events, speeches, tactics, campaigns or even strategies that are ultimately aimed at them. Elections are largely determined by a few fundamentals: the economy, the political cycle, the basic appeal of the party leaders. The role of human agency is not trivial, but it is rarely decisive either.  
… As good as he is, Mr Crosby is not behind the Tories’ recent run of form. He is not yet physically present very much and will not work full-time for the party until much closer to the 2015 election. The economic recovery has changed politics more than any conscious act of strategy.  
… For all his psephological rigour, Mr Messina will not make an enormous difference either. His client, Mr Obama, was re-elected because he was up against a maladroit rival – Mitt Romney, who employed feted and costly strategists of his own – at a time of gently improving economic conditions.  
… the really important events of this parliament were April 25 2013, when the official statisticians revealed Britain had avoided another recession; and September 25 2010, when Labour elected Mr Miliband. Next to these moments, the recruitment of Mr Crosby and Mr Messina are neither here nor there.
Perhaps Ganesh, who seems to have lashed himself to the mast of the sinking ship of print journalism, is wondering whether he should have opted for another calling. Anne McElvoy, public policy editor of The Economist, writing in The Times the following day, was much less sceptical, but she has met Crosby:
Mr Crosby cannot change the fundamentals of the 2015 vote. He cannot make Mr Cameron sound less plummy nor make the economy grow any faster. Yet he is already providing a clearer framing to the contest. This is what able strategists do best and why Labour, stuffed full of chaps who think a sojourn studying political science on the US East Coast is an intro to street-fighting politics, is rightly worried about the Lynton effect.  
I remember my first journalistic date when he was busy master-minding Boris Johnson’s 2008 campaign. The venue was reassuringly expensive (I hope Dave can muster a decent wine budget). “I can’t think why I’m here,” was his encouraging opening gambit. He could see no point in the commentariat, he explained, considering us a distraction from the real business of targeting outer parts of London where the liberal intelligentsia did not dominate conversation.  
The bluff exterior conceals one of the sharpest political brains for hire. Mainly the talent is a simple but effective one. It lies in telling politicians when to shut up and what to emphasise.  
… I dare say Mr Crosby won’t be an easy prospect to live with if, like Mr Osborne and others in Camp Cameron, you have ideas of your own about how election campaigns should be run, but so far his basic recipe, “Get the barnacles off the boat”, looks sound. Goodbye to gay marriage, wind farms and the happiness index. A few core subjects such as the economy, welfare and education will be used to ram home contrasts with Labour and ask who has the more compelling answers to the big national questions. Team Miliband, meanwhile, should put as much effort into finding a strategist capable of crossing swords with Mr Crosby as it does into affecting outrage about him.
All I know about election strategists is what I glean from the media, people like these two pundits. Crosby seems to have the sort of forceful nature needed to keep large egos in line. But, as McElvoy points out, there are other big personalities around with their own ideas and who won’t like being told what to do. And what happens when Messina, having mastered the UK postcode system, Skypes from Washington with yet another view?

Messina’s speciality is supposed to lie in social media and voter targeting. One can’t help wondering how transferable his skills will prove. US Presidential politics is a two-stage process. Firstly, red and blue fight among themselves to choose their candidates, then red and blue fight it out in the swing states which determine the outcome of the Electoral College. The voters overall seem to split somewhere between 45/55 and 49/51, but it’s where those votes are cast that matters. In the UK, by contrast, it’s the outcomes in about 100 or so marginal constituencies (in over 600) that determine which party governs. But the UK no longer has an essentially red/blue two-party system, the rise of the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists keeping the maximum share of the vote accessible by the two main parties below 40%. The next election may see UKIP becoming a significant fourth element, complicating things further. Working out which barnacles to scrape off and which to keep becomes a multi-dimensional problem, particularly for the Tories who have to fight on two fronts, to their left or right depending on the particular marginal involved.

It will be fascinating to see how hiring this high-priced help works out for the Tories – in so far as we get told about it by the media. And, of course, as Messina is no doubt aware, the media’s structure in the UK is rather different from that in the US, being national and having the BBC as an influential component.

12 August 2013

Robert Lewis's 'Dark Actors'

After Dr David Kelly, the government scientist, died in 2003, Lord Hutton was asked to investigate the surrounding circumstances, his report appearing in January 2004. Hutton concluded that Dr Kelly took his own life. In 2007, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who has since become Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport in the coalition government, published The Strange Death of David Kelly and concluded that Kelly’s death was due to hands other than his own. David Aaronovitch in his 2009 book, Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History, devoted a chapter to debunking Baker, Mr Pooter Forms a Theory, which ends:
In conclusion, it is worth referring to the preface to the English edition of Fritz Tobias’s book on the Reichstag fire, in which one great British historian, A.J.P. Taylor, quotes another, Sir Lewis Namier: ‘There would be little to say on this subject, were it not for the nonsense that has been talked about it’.
Now, 10 years after the tragedy, Dark Actors, The Life and Death of Dr David Kelly by Robert Lewis has appeared. Is it worth reading? The opening chapter describes the events of the day of Kelly's death. The choice of its title, An Inspector Falls*, sets the tone. To establish the reader's enthusiasm for ploughing through what follows, or even to induce the book’s purchase in the first place, Lewis sets about raising expectations, eg on page 5:
And then the official account turns abruptly hysterical.  
If there was anything more substantial than her husband’s suddenly stricken visage that caused her to become ill with worry, she has never revealed what it was.  
So some nameless, unspoken crisis appears to have quickly descended.
but gives the impression that his heart isn’t in it:
So the scene of death was demonstrably disturbed by individuals that [sic] had nothing to do with Thames Valley Police, for reasons that remain unclear, one of whom was very likely an unaccountable intelligence officer whose very existence has been denied – to the extent that several witnesses claimed he was a uniformed police officer, while his Special Branch liaison, DC Coe, maintained for seven years he was never there at all. (page 14)
The next eight chapters are chronological, most of them concerned with Kelly’s professional life after joining the Ministry of Defence at Porton Down. Then, despite the attempt to pick loose ends at the start, in the final chapter Lewis concludes that his subject did indeed commit suicide. Any value that the book may possess therefore largely depends on the quality of its account of Kelly’s life. To be fair, the reader has to recognise the problem presented to Lewis by the confidentiality surrounding much of Kelly’s government work. But remembering that it was said of Kelly that “he had such an eye for detail that nothing got past him” (page 39), at least one can try to assess how Lewis dealt with those matters of detail which he could be expected to get right. With a far from expert eye, I came across the following:
Page 37: Terence Taylor is described as “… a former weapons inspector who went on to direct the Institute of Strategic Studies” – he was an Assistant Director at the International Institute of Strategic Studies.  
Page 184: The same individual is referred to as Lantos, Santos and Lantos within seven lines of text.  
Page 249: “The new UNSCOM … with its own (foot high) communications mast …”.  
Page 379: “Harris, Robert and Jeremy, Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing London 1982”.
which could all be dismissed as trivia. But more disconcertingly from a writer who expects to be taken seriously:
Page 282: “Bill Clinton f****d a 22-year-old White House intern …” [the asterisks are mine].
and there are digressions like the one on page 189 about the controversial book Bravo Two Zero by Chris Ryan (aka Colin Armstrong) from which Lewis has to return to topic with a crashing non sequitur:
Desperate to extricate himself from Iraq, Colin Armstrong would cross one hundred and eighty miles of hostile terrain. And years later David Kelly would walk three thousand yards of Oxfordshire countryside.
not to mention his proneness to off-the-point platitudinising:
All the members of the household have gone their separate ways, as modern families generally must, if they are to live the life that is due to them. (page 338)
Rather more worrying is the way Lewis uses notes and references. It can be argued that a non-academic work has no need for them, or that they should be kept to a bare minimum. In the case of this book, it’s their unevenness which is the problem. The second chapter, Dai, which takes Kelly from birth to the age of 40, is supported by just three notes whereas Chapter 8 has 120, nearly two per page. To see why this matters, take the following example from Chapter 2:
Another contemporary of Kelly’s at Leeds was Jack Straw [**], who was elected chair of the university’s Labour Society in 1966, whereupon he rebranded it the Socialist Society and then withdrew its support for Labour because the party was insufficiently left-wing. Straw gained further notoriety on campus when the British Council selected him to go on a student trip to Chile, where, instead of building a youth club, he spent his time quarrelling with his colleagues, posturing as an insurgent communist, and demanding an audience with the opposition leader Salvador Allende. All of which he made up for in later life, when as Foreign Secretary of the Thatcherite New Labour party he helped ensure safe passage home for Allende's murderer Augusto Pinochet at a time when Spanish relatives of the Chilean 'disappeared' were demanding he be tried in the Hague for crimes against humanity.  
To his credit, Kelly had as little to do with Straw as possible.  
‘He won't remember me; he later told his half-sister, 'because I wasn't a political animal, but I remember him.'  
And so it proved. Kelly and Straw met professionally for the first time in 2002, when the former supported the latter in a hearing before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about UK foreign policy in the wake of 9/11. The Foreign Secretary made a point of complaining to his department that they had sent a nobody along to accompany him. The following year, when Kelly became drawn into the farrago over the government's claims of an Iraqi WMD arsenal, Straw was a part of the Downing Street cabal that secretly exposed him to the press and then belittled him in public.
There are various assertions about Straw here, none of them ascribed to a source. This, in itself, doesn’t mean that they aren’t true, but they present a problem for the reader, particularly when Lewis could have made reference to Straw’s autobiography, Last Man Standing, published (and posted about here) last year. One has to accept that Straw, a lawyer turned politician, may well have been economical with the truth about his student days, and he wouldn’t have been the first person to have moved to the political centre after graduating. Straw makes no mention of rebranding Leeds University’s Labour Society as the Socialist Society, but does state:
The Labour left at Leeds University worked as part of a broad front with the CP [Communist Party] and we spent much of our time fighting the destructive politics of the various active Trotskyist groups.*  
*These included the Socialist Labour League, led locally by lecturer Cliff Slaughter, and Tory Cliff of the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers' Party). (LMS, page 65)
Straw also provides an account of the NUS delegation to Chile which is somewhat at odds with Lewis’s (LMS page 69). He devotes a whole chapter to the Pinochet affair during his Home Secretaryship (A Dictator Calls – Straw, too, could have done better) and reveals that he:
might have met Allende at a reception in Santiago de Chile, perhaps even shaken his hand, but I’d had no other dealings with him whatever. (LMS, page 255-6).
But these are not particularly significant issues, unlike the following:
If I was asked which single individual most influenced my view that Saddam did pose a serious threat to international peace and security, my answer would be unambiguous: Dr David Kelly, who tragically died in July 2003.  
Dr Kelly was a microbiologist who started his career at the UK’s Biological Weapons Establishment at Porton Down, and later became a weapons inspector. As a member of UNSCOM's staff, he made thirty-seven trips to Iraq during the nineties. I met him just once, in September 2002, when he accompanied me to give evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. At the hour long 'pre-brief' I was struck both by Dr Kelly's depth of knowledge and understanding, and by the clarity of his belief that, if diplomacy failed, then military action would have to follow. (LMS, page 368)
The reader with sight of both accounts is forced to conclude that either Straw is breathtakingly hypocritical or that Lewis’s unsourced version (‘The Foreign Secretary made a point of complaining to his department that they had sent a nobody along to accompany him’) is wrong. I’m afraid that I’m inclined to the latter view. Lewis never goes on to mention Kelly’s appearance at the Select Committee in 2002, a fairly important and public event. But then he makes no reference to Kelly’s being awarded the CMG in 1996. He also informs us that:
The debate over why we invaded and occupied Iraq has rumbled on for over ten years. Unless Tony Blair can deliver a plausible answer, which would require him to experience an actual spiritual [sic] journey, unlike the pathological levels of self-justification that comprise his autobiography, it will be argued over for the rest of my life.
but omits any mention of the Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry (report forthcoming) or Lord Butler ‘s 2004 Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction. There are no links (ie URLs), by the way, in Dark Actors, to Lord Hutton’s Inquiry (as in the opening sentence of this post) or to anything else. This seems rather old-fashioned given the age of its author. Blair’s A Journey is not in the Bibliography.

Given that Lewis doesn’t challenge Lord Hutton’s conclusion that David Kelly committed suicide, it is legitimate to ask what his book has to offer - “Is it worth reading?” If someone is looking for an insight into the lives of weapons inspectors operating inside a hostile Middle Eastern regime, it may be. As a source of information about the career of Dr David Kelly in particular, I’m doubtful. The errors and weaknesses in Dark Actors, apparent even to a casual reader, undermine its authority. Judged by Kelly’s own standards it isn’t the book he deserved but, perhaps more than anything else, he and his family deserve to be left in peace.

*Kelly was a weapons inspector who committed suicide. In JB Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls, a mysterious ‘inspector’ interrogates a wealthy English family about their responsibility for the suicide of a young working class factory girl. An Inspector Falls seems a facile and misleading title for the content of the chapter concerned.

** Straw, born in August 1946, was an undergraduate at Leeds from 1964 to 1967 (LMS, pages 9, 62 and 69). Kelly, born in May 1944, was an undergraduate from 1963 to 1967 (DA, pages 26, 33 and 35). That Kelly’s degree took four years and that he entered Leeds a year later than might be expected from his birthdate, are points not addressed in Dark Actors.

5 August 2013

'A Crisis of Brilliance' at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

When an exhibition gets good reviews from professional art critics, even I start to wonder why I bother with my tuppenceworth. So if you want to stop reading here about Nash, Nevinson, Spencer, Gertler, Carrington, Bomberg: A Crisis of Brilliance, 1908-1922 (its very full title) and instead find out what Brian Sewell or Andrew Lambirth had to say about it, I really won’t mind.

So what can I add? Having read the book and seen the exhibition, I can opine that if one was of interest, the other will be too. The book, David Haycock’s A Crisis of Brilliance Five Young British Artists and the Great War, came out in 2010. His five were Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Mark
Gertler, Richard Nevinson and Dora Carrington; the exhibition which Haycock has now curated includes David Bomberg as well. The notion of this group engendering a “crisis of brilliance” came from Henry Tonks, teacher and professor at the Slade from 1892 to 1930 (apart from war service), who had first applied it to a previous generation of his students there in the 1890s which had included Augustus and Gwen John and Percy Wyndham Lewis. Both his crises were the existence of a superfluity of talent in particular cohorts of students whereas Haycock’s crisis reveals itself as the one inflicted by the First World War on the six contemporaries in the Dulwich exhibition.

In the catalogue Haycock provides a very helpful description of the sequence of art exhibitions and of the groups of artists which were being formed in the years just before the War. The most important of the former were the 1910 Manet and the Post-Impressionists exhibition and the 1912 Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, both organised by Roger Fry. It was the latter show which Tonks advised his students, all about 20 at the time, to avoid – what could have been more guaranteed to ensure their attendance? In1912 London was also introduced to Italian Futurism which would lead to the appearance of Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticism movement just a few months before the War began.

Although visitors encounter Bomberg’s In the Hold (1913-14) (above) juxtaposed with Dulwich’s old masters before entering, the exhibition adopts a chronological approach and starts with works showing the initial impact of exposure to modernism and futurism on a group of students originally preoccupied with early Renaissance Italian art (John Currie’s Some Later Primitives and Madame Tiscaron (1912) below).

Examples are Stanley Spencer’s Apple Gatherers 1912-13 and Paul Nash’s Apple Pickers (1914), both regarded as being influenced by Gauguin (below left and right) and Gertler’s The Fruit Sorters in the exhibition poster.

Subsequently the show makes clear how this exposure to modernism conditioned the group’s artistic response to the dislocations and innovations (eg Nevinson’s Futurist Spiral Descent 1916 left) of the First World War and the consequences for their work in the years after 1918. Two major works which were not made available to the exhibition were Gertler’s masterpiece, Merry-Go-Round (1916), which is a highlight of Tate Britain’s recent rehang, and Nash’s The Menin Road (1919) which is owned by the currently closed Imperial War Museum (below left and right). Hopefully the First World War centenary programme the UK government is running from 2014 to 2018 will include a major exhibition of art from the period to put the work of the Dulwich six in a wider context.

Does the Dulwich show work? On the whole exhibitions concentrate on one artist in retrospect or bring together artists who, if only for a period, embraced a similar artistic philosophy, be it Pre-Raphaelite or Bauhaus. Haycock’s book impressed by skilful intertwining of the biographies of his five subjects, but inevitably it is a different proposition for an exhibition to provide six retrospectives in parallel. The individuals concerned had the War in common, but had different experiences with varying effects on their art. Their lives would come to disparate ends, some distinguished, some tragic. Anyone interested in 20th century English art will find the Dulwich exhibition rewarding, but Haycock’s book or the exhibition catalogue are likely to prove very helpful in providing wider context to the works on display. Nash, Nevinson, Spencer, Gertler, Carrington, Bomberg: A Crisis of Brilliance, 1908-1922 closes on 22 September.


Bomberg taught in one of London South Bank University ‘s predecessor organisations and its Borough Road Gallery is now providing opportunities to see his work.