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The Screw May Twist: English National Opera and Gilbert and Sullivan

I have long felt that if the phrase “English National Opera” means anything, it means Gilbert and Sullivan. Their comic operas are as thoroughly English as anything ever written, and have even arguably had a hand in creating what we now think “Englishness” is – including an attitude of irony and mockery towards the idea …

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Wodehouse and the Statues

At the time of writing, the Guardian is reporting that Prime Ministerial hopeful Rishi Sunak “will say” today: “What’s the point in stopping the bulldozers in the green belt if we allow leftwing agitators to take a bulldozer to our history, our traditions and our fundamental values?”, going on to refer to “pulling down statues …

The Last of Sherlock

We’ve been rewatching the four series of Sherlock – the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman broadcast between 2010 and 2017: what has been called a Sherlock for the 21st century. More accurately, it might be called a Sherlock for the Cameron years. Certainly, the first series has a sort of quaint nostalgic …

Leo Baxendale and the Badtime Bedtime Books

I first got to know the name Leo Baxendale in 1976 when I was a small boy, and our parents bought for me and my brother (I think technically for my brother alone, but you know how it is) a cartoon book called Willy the Kid. It was anarchic, rude, mischievous, and very funny. A …

Being funny is not the same as being happy

Well, it isn’t, is it? It seems so obvious that it isn’t worth saying; the “tears of a clown” thing is a very old cliché indeed. And yet it’s something that still causes a lot of misunderstanding. Take, for instance, Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, premiered in 1946. The last movement is fast, bright, manic music, exciting …

Reading Isn’t Believing

Last year, during lockdown, I wrote a short novel. Since then, I’ve been trying to find a publisher for it. I’m still trying. Writing (I mean the creative sort) has been my main ambition and motivation for most of my life. I have written plays that have been performed in my home town without disaster. …

The Modernity of “Melincourt”

“How can I seriously call myself an enemy to slavery, while I indulge in in the luxuries that slavery acquires? How can the consumer of sugar pretend to throw on the grower of it the exclusive burden of their participated criminality?… If every individual in this kingdom, who is truly and conscientiously an enemy to …

All What Jazz: The Shostakovich Jazz Suite that Never Was

It’s just one of those extremely trivial things that nevertheless irritate me beyond all measure. As is well known, the great Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote two Jazz Suites: the first in 1934 and the second in 1938. They became well known after Decca released a “Jazz Album” of this music in 1993, the Royal …