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... It should now be generally agreed except possibly in the Fens that Evelyn Waugh was the greatest English novelist of his generation. Certainly Graham Greene, Henry Green and Angus Wilson thought so, although they and not he won the worldly honours Waugh would dearly have loved. On the other hand, that redoubtable holder of the Order of Merit, J.B. Priestley, did not think so ...

Flights of the Enchanter

Noël Annan, 4 April 1991

A Traveller’s Alphabet: Partial Memoirs 
by Steven Runciman.
Thames and Hudson, 214 pp., £16.95, February 1991, 9780500015049
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... At the end of the First World War a schoolboy at Eton had come to the conclusion that people could be divided into the stupids (the hearties) or the sillies (the clever trendies). Nor did his teachers escape censure. He thought them ill-informed, and one wrote wistfully in his end-of-term report: ‘I wish this boy were kinder to me.’ Steven Runciman was already beginning to see history in a different perspective from his mentors ...

Diary

Noël Annan: On Ralph Dahrendorf, 27 September 1990

... I see that Ralph Dahrendorf has given us his reflections on the revolution in Eastern Europe.* Burke wrote his on the French Revolution to ‘a very young gentleman in Paris’ in order to damp his enthusiasm and instil some doubts in his mind; Dahrendorf his to a considerably older gentleman in Warsaw to dispel some fashionable muddles about the future in our minds as well as in his ...

Poor Jack

Noël Annan, 5 December 1985

Leaves from a Victorian Diary 
by Edward Leeves and John Sparrow.
Alison Press/Secker, 126 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 436 24370 9
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... In the Berlin restaurant Baron Kuno von Pregnitz, ignoring Mr Norris, suddenly asked the young Englishman: ‘And, excuse me, how are the Horse Guards?’ ‘Still sitting there.’ ‘Yes? I am glad to hear this. Ho! Ho! Ho! ... Excuse me, I can remember them very well.’ They had in fact been sitting there for longer perhaps than Christopher Isherwood knew ...

The Art of Self-Defeat

Noël Annan, 19 July 1984

Faces of Philip: A Memoir of Philip Toynbee 
by Jessica Mitford.
Heinemann, 175 pp., £9.95, July 1984, 0 434 46802 9
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... Although I was Philip Toynbee’s exact contemporary, I did not know him all that well: but I was always struck by the quite exceptional devotion of those who did. They found him lovable; and when he and Ben Nicolson founded a luncheon club they flocked to it. He was affectionate and generous, marvellously funny but convinced that the world in which he lived was insufferable and that he must do what he could to save it ...

Singing the Blues

Noël Annan, 22 April 1993

A History of Cambridge University. Vol. IV: 1870-1990 
by Christopher Brooke.
Cambridge, 652 pp., £50, December 1992, 9780521343503
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... Who better to be our guide to modern Cambridge than the Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History? Christopher Brooke was brought up in Cambridge, the son of the professor of medieval history and himself a post-war Apostle. He begins by whisking us round the colleges telling us what each was like in Victorian times and how the abolition of the religious Tests and the Royal Commission (1872) transformed Cambridge from being a provincial seminary and a federation of colleges into a university of faculties and departments where the dons could marry and no longer had to be clergymen ...

Benson’s Pleasure

Noël Annan, 4 March 1982

Edwardian Excursions: From the Diaries of A.C. Benson 1898-1904 
edited by A.C. Benson and David Newsome.
Murray, 200 pp., £12.50, April 1981, 9780719537691
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Geoffrey Madan’s Notebooks 
edited by John Gere and John Sparrow.
Oxford, 144 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 19 215870 8
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... Benson resembles a large tabby which stalks round the house switching its tail, delicately sniffing this, softly circling round that; every so often a paw is extended to pluck gently at a human being who has crossed its path – as if to explore what kind of a creature this intruder might be and whether he likes cats. Then suddenly the claws show, the paw strikes and the claws retract leaving beads of blood on the skin ...

Hinsley’s History

Noël Annan, 1 August 1985

Diplomacy and Intelligence during the Second World War: Essays in Honour of F.H. Hinsley 
edited by Richard Langhorne.
Cambridge, 329 pp., £27.50, May 1985, 0 521 26840 0
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British Intelligence and the Second World War. Vol. I: 1939-Summer 1941, Vol. II: Mid-1941-Mid-1943, Vol. III, Part I: June 1943-June 1944 
by F.H. Hinsley, E.E. Thomas, C.F.G. Ransom and R.C. Knight.
HMSO, 616 pp., £12.95, September 1979, 0 11 630933 4
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... There are at least three books at present being written on Anthony Blunt and the Cambridge Spies. Already the sleuths are nosing out the Fifth Man – the master control, an older don who must have recruited them. In 1977 the Times proclaimed to a sceptical public that he was Donald Beves, the delightful tutor of King’s known to generations of undergraduates who performed on stage in the ADC, the Marlowe or the Musical Society, and whose interest in politics or indeed in ideas was negligible: clearly his bonhomie disguised an Iago ...

De-Nazification

Noël Annan, 15 October 1981

Blind Eye to Murder 
by Tom Bower.
Deutsch, 501 pp., £9.95, July 1981, 0 233 97292 7
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The Road to Nuremberg 
by Bradley Smith.
Deutsch, 303 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 233 97410 5
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... Investigative journalism has many triumphs to its credit. It toppled a President of the United States. It has exposed, through the hard leg-work of tiny teams of sleuths, the evasions of corporations, ministries, crooks in local government, and the common shysters whose trickery Esther Rantzen mocks in tones of cloying surprise. The press are right to blow fanfares in their own praise because investigative journalism is precisely the sort of activity which those who sneer at the free press want to muzzle in the interest of ‘objectivity’ and ‘responsible’ journalism ...

Dummy and Biffy

Noël Annan, 17 October 1985

Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community 
by Christopher Andrew.
Heinemann, 616 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 434 02110 5
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The Secret Generation 
by John Gardner.
Heinemann, 453 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 434 28250 2
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Two Thyrds 
by Bertie Denham.
Ross Anderson Publications, 292 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 86360 006 9
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The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany 1933-1939 
by Wesley Wark.
Tauris, 304 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 1 85043 014 4
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... No wonder people think of the secret services as farce or fiction. What is one to make of an organisation whose leaders have names like Dummy Oliver, Blinker Hall, Biffy Dunderdale, Lousy Payne, Buster Milmo, Pay Sykes, Tar Robertson, Barmy Russel and Quex Sinclair (not to be confused with his successor but one, Sinbad Sinclair)? It’s no good reassuring the reader that in the transition from Victorian days, when men called even their closest friends by their surnames, to the present time, when not to know the first name of a casual acquaintance makes it almost impossible to address him without appearing pompous or supercilious, nicknames like Stubby, Toby or Tubby came to be used as a gesture to informality, particularly in the Army and Navy ...
The Dons 
by Noël Annan.
HarperCollins, 357 pp., £17.99, November 1999, 0 00 257074 2
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A Man of Contradictions: A Life of A.L.Rowse 
by Richard Ollard.
Allen Lane, 368 pp., £20, October 1999, 0 7139 9353 7
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... Noel Annan will be best remembered for Our Age, his grand, confident and sometimes very funny memoir written in the late 1980s, looking back at that generation of the British élite which came of age between the two world wars and so (as the book’s subtitle claimed) ‘made postwar Britain’. Here he reflected on their social connections, their shifting political and intellectual priorities, their sexual preferences, and their apparently glittering careers ...

Our War

Nicholas Hiley, 7 March 1996

Changing Enemies: The Defeat and Regeneration of Germany 
by Noël Annan.
HarperCollins, 266 pp., £18, November 1995, 0 00 255629 4
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... World War needs to be supplemented with the personal memoirs of those closely involved, and Noel Annan appears well suited to the task. In 1941 he joined the Military Intelligence Division of the War Office, and worked in section MI14, which was the German department. In 1943 he was promoted to be War Office representative on the Joint Intelligence Staff at ...

Sidney and Beatrice

Michael Holroyd, 25 October 1979

A Victorian Courtship: The Story of Beatrice Potter and Sidney Webb 
by Jeanne Mackenzie.
Weidenfeld, 148 pp., £5.50
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... Fabian Paradise and presented the choice between Mrs Webb and Mrs Woolf that, according to Noel Annan, confronted England between the two world ...

This Charming Man

Frank Kermode, 24 February 1994

The Collected and Recollected Marc 
Fourth Estate, 51 pp., £25, November 1993, 1 85702 164 9Show More
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... uninteresting. In fact there is not a lot of spikiness, the line flows pleasingly around Noel Annan and caresses George Weidenfeld, though without forgetting to make his eyes wander and his mouth disappear. Huw Weldon holds his teacup in a very refined way, though his partly averted face is aggressively tense. Clive Jenkins is a smiling ...

The Voice from the Hearth-Rug

Alan Ryan: The Cambridge Apostles, 28 October 1999

The Cambridge Apostles 1820-1914: Liberalism, Imagination and Friendship in British Intellectual and Professional Life 
by W.C. Lubenow.
Cambridge, 458 pp., £35, October 1998, 0 521 57213 4
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... relationships at their most perfect. To other members, including both G.M. Trevelyan and Noel Annan, it was one of the recruiting grounds of the intellectual aristocracy that they looked to as the proper replacement for the landed variety. To cynical outsiders, after the revelation of Anthony Blunt’s long service as a Soviet agent, it was one of the ...

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