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Literary Guy

Ian Jack, 19 June 1986

A North Sea Journey 
by A. Alvarez.
Hodder, 191 pp., £9.95, May 1986, 0 340 37347 4
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... Readers of the old Eagle may remember that educative comic’s colourful centre-spread, where every week the latest triumphs of British technology (this was the new Elizabethan age) would be dissected for the enlightenment of British boyhood (girls read the Girl). The cutaway drawing, the arrow and the numbered part explained the workings of the jet engine or the diesel locomotive, or how Hunt’s expedition scaled Everest with oxygen masks and Kendal mint cake ...

Do you like him?

Ian Jack: Ken Livingstone, 10 May 2012

You Can’t Say That: Memoirs 
by Ken Livingstone.
Faber, 710 pp., £9.99, April 2012, 978 0 571 28041 4
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... first black friends after they heard him attack the Wilson government’s nervous dealings with Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. Openly gay men and women were less easily happened on – Livingstone reckons he had met no more than four or five by his late twenties – but he was untroubled when the Gay Liberation Front encouraged many more to declare themselves and ...

Problem Families

Ian Jack, 26 October 1989

From Moorepark to Wine Alley: The Rise and Fall of a Glasgow Housing Scheme 
by Sean Damer.
Edinburgh, 209 pp., £25, August 1989, 0 85224 622 6
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... Southern Britons may be forgiven for thinking that most people in Scotland grew up in cottages among the purple bens, or in tenements dwarfed by shipyard cranes, or in douce villas where grace was said over every scone. This is the legacy of Scottish literature and Scottish comedy, which in the course of this century has replaced one romantic stereotype with another – J ...

Treating the tiger

Ian Jack, 18 February 1988

Tales from Two Cities: Travel of Another Sort 
by Dervla Murphy.
Murray, 310 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 7195 4435 1
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... Dervla Murphy made her name as a writer who got on her bike and travelled bravely and alone through the less accessible parts of the non-European world. More recently, she stayed closer to her Irish home and investigated the religious and social divisions of Northern Ireland. In this book she turns her attention to the non-European populations of two British cities, Bradford and Birmingham, and there confronts the hazards and complexities of inner-city life with the same fortitude – sometimes amounting to pig-headedness – which carried her through Baltistan, Ethiopia and the further reaches of Nepal ...

Now to Stride into the Sunlight

Ian Jack: The Brexiters, 15 June 2017

What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit 
by Daniel Hannan.
Head of Zeus, 298 pp., £9.99, November 2016, 978 1 78669 193 4
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The Bad Boys of Brexit: Tales of Mischief, Mayhem & Guerrilla Warfare in the EU Referendum Campaign 
by Arron Banks.
Biteback, 354 pp., £9.99, June 2017, 978 1 78590 205 5
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All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class 
by Tim Shipman.
William Collins, 688 pp., £9.99, June 2017, 978 0 00 821517 0
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... How do we feel​ about Brexit now that a year has passed? As the old advert for tonic wine used to ask, above a drawing of a housewife with her head in her hands: Tired? Depressed? Anxious? No other public event in my lifetime has had such an invasive and lowering personal effect – in memory, the Cuban Missile Crisis came and went almost before you could say ‘Armageddon ...

Downhill from Here

Ian Jack: The 1970s, 27 August 2009

When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies 
by Andy Beckett.
Faber, 576 pp., £20, May 2009, 978 0 571 22136 3
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... sat. Later, three legs became two when Harold Wilson and the trade unions’ grandest grandee, Jack Jones, reached the agreement known as the Social Contract, whereby workers agreed to moderate their wage demands so that the two-figure inflation rates could be beaten. Opinion polls decided Jones was the most powerful man in Britain. ‘Vote ...

Scoop after Scoop

Ian Jack: Chapman Pincher’s Scoops, 5 June 2014

Dangerous to Know: A Life 
by Chapman Pincher.
Biteback, 386 pp., £20, February 2014, 978 1 84954 651 5
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... on: animal slaughter was the social cement of Pincher’s Britain. Harry Hyams, Charles Clore, Jack Profumo, Lord Dilhorne, George Weidenfeld, Maurice Oldfield, Victor Rothschild, Lord Porchester, Andrew Parker Bowles: ideally they should be highlighted in bold type, as was the way in the Hickey column. The author lets us know a little about ...

Cocoa, sir?

Ian Jack: The Royal Navy, 2 January 2003

Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy 1900-45 
by Christopher McKee.
Harvard, 285 pp., £19.95, May 2002, 0 674 00736 0
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Rule Britannia: The Victorian and Edwardian Navy 
by Peter Padfield.
Pimlico, 246 pp., £12.50, August 2002, 0 7126 6834 9
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... decks. Other than that, and a jacket of blue (hence ‘bluejackets’, hence every sailor as ‘Jack’), their dress varied according to their taste and pocket: they paid for their own clothes. The Imperial trade routes of the British merchant fleet – then, and for a long time after, the world’s largest collection of ships under a single flag – could ...

Cheering us up

Ian Jack, 15 September 1988

In for a Penny: The Unauthorised Biography of Jeffrey Archer 
by Jonathan Mantle.
Hamish Hamilton, 264 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 241 12478 6
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... In the opening pages of Thomas Mann’s novel, Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, the hero debates a question which has always worried him: which is better for the careerist, to see the world small or to see it big? The small view has its attractions. Great statesmen and empire-builders must see the world this way, Krull thinks: like a chessboard, with human pieces that can be manoeuvred coldly and boldly as the player rises above the mass of mankind ...

A Country Emptied

Ian Jack: The Highland Clearances, 7 March 2019

The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 464 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 0 241 30410 5
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... In​ 1987 the Proclaimers released a single called ‘Letter from America’, which compared the then ongoing industrial destruction of the Scottish Lowlands with the Highland Clearances two centuries before. It was a rare intrusion by an 18th-century lyric into the UK top ten. ‘Lochaber no more/Sutherland no more/Lewis no more/Skye no more’, sang the Proclaimers, reprising the sentiment a few lines later as ‘Bathgate no more/Linwood no more/Methil no more/Irvine no more ...

Why did we not know?

Ian Jack: Who is hoarding the land?, 23 May 2019

The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain 
by Brett Christophers.
Verso, 394 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 78663 158 9
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... I grew up​ on a very useful piece of land, the hilly little peninsula that juts south into the Firth of Forth and provides travellers up and down the east coast of Scotland with the shortest and most convenient route across the estuary. For centuries, ferries made the crossing, but then the bridges came, first the Victorian railway bridge and then two road bridges (the second opened in 2017), their approaches gashing the peninsula with cuttings and infilling its hollows with embankments, adding to the alterations already made to the landscape by abandoned quarries that had left behind manmade cliffs of whinstone and ponds of dark, still water ...

Time for Several Whiskies

Ian Jack: BBC Propaganda, 30 August 2018

Auntie’s War: The BBC during the Second World War 
by Edward Stourton.
Doubleday, 422 pp., £20, November 2017, 978 0 85752 332 7
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... In​ 2016, Oxford Dictionaries made ‘post-truth’ their word of the year, defining it as an adjective that described circumstances ‘in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. This hardly seems up to the job: if that’s all the word means, the wonder is that we have waited so long for it ...

The Best Stuff

Ian Jack: David Astor, 2 June 2016

David Astor: A Life in Print 
by Jeremy Lewis.
Cape, 400 pp., £25, March 2016, 978 0 224 09090 2
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... men’ who ran Britain didn’t understand that ‘our cause is so much more than the Union Jack and the White Cliffs of Dover, which is all that Winston really represents.’ Hitler had to be fought with ideas. He was far from alone in this thinking, which grew in popularity and influence as the conflict progressed, culminating in Churchill’s defeat ...

Slices of Toast

Ruth Padel, 8 March 2007

... for Ian Jack Lying in bed in the dark without heating. December 3rd and feeling warm, almost too warm, I hear the window give that rattle-burp it only ever does when the wind is fierce outside. Black raindrops flame on the glass. Light from across the back gardens, one lone yellow oblong, someone up early on a winter morning ...

Comprehensible Disorders

David Craig, 3 September 1987

Before the oil ran out: Britain 1977-86 
by Ian Jack.
Secker, 271 pp., £9.95, June 1987, 0 436 22020 2
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In a Distant Isle: The Orkney Background of Edwin Muir 
by George Marshall.
Scottish Academic Press, 184 pp., £12.50, May 1987, 0 7073 0469 5
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... The item which seems set to stay longest with me from Ian Jack’s alert and precisely-written record of British life in the Seventies and Eighties comes from the opening memoir of his father, which supplies a deeper soil, or subsoil, to the son’s coverage of more recent matters for the Sunday Times and (since Wapping) the Observer: Few of his workplaces survive ...

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