Ashes to Ashes


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Hitler's thugs burned the politically incorrect books of Germany, and Stalin continued this policy of cultural cleansing by populating Siberia with the Soviet Union's most gifted writers. Britain's Tony Blair used the laudable battle cry of education, education, education in his election campaign, and his lieutenants are now implementing this policy in a curious way. The Dept. of Culture, Media and Sport has issued an edict commanding the public libraries of all local authorities to replenish their entire stocks within "relevant guidelines" within eight years. The books being thrown out include the best in English and American literature, as well as translations of European classics and works by contemporary authors. In a recent survey, only seven out of a list of the "100 Best Books" had survived this auto-da-fe of what New Labor deems "relevant." When you combine this policy with the new censored state school curriculum and the dumbing-down of the BBC programs, the desirable democratic result of a One Party System of the Brainwashed will have been achieved.


The tragedy is that this is a free country, not a dictatorship. This country has been in the forefront of the education of the working class, as a recent eponymous and moving book showed. The Scottish-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built hundreds of free public libraries throughout the United States, and was of course rewarded by hack journalists classifying him as a "robber baron." Another Scot, David Campbell, the publisher of Everyman's Library, is today distributing free copies of classic literature to deprived state schools. The pupils and teachers apparently love it, but some bureaucrat will find it socially disruptive. The Socialist thinker Lord Young, who originated the wonderful Open University program on tv, died in January, age 86. He must have been discouraged by New Labor's policies of "cleansed" education. Readers of "Taki's Top Drawer" have, however, been privileged to be educated and amused by Lord Young's son, Toby, whose columns would survive any politically motivated detergent.


I am supposed to cover proscenium events, not political polemics, so here goes. We have had some wonderful solo performers in various venues: Patrick Garland's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own was received with the inimitable Eileen Atkins in the lead. Another brace of inimitables were Alan Bennett talking about himself and Oliver Sachs ditto. If I paid those two royalties on the anecdotes I quote from them I'd go broke. Sir Richard Eyre, the former director of the National Theater, lectured on the subject of "Do We Need the Arts?" and got a standing ovation. Noreena Hertz, a brilliant young Cambridge economist, harangued the audience at one of the Daily Telegraph's lunchtime lectures. Her beef was against Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy, and this was greeted with an ovation in the polite English "one-hand-clapping" category. Hertz, who is pretty and was dressed in Chanel leather, had demonstrated last year at the G-7 meeting in Genoa, and had also sat, as she proudly announced, "on a panel" with Bill Clinton. She had somehow escaped the raised batons of the no-nonsense Italian carabinieri and of the former Oval Office athlete! The last in this splendid series of lectures was Neil McGregor, currently the director of the British Museum. McGregor, assisted by slides, spoke eloquently about the portrayal of woman in art.


It would be invidious to describe the revival of Jonathan Miller's production of The Mikado as a solo performance. Yet Dr. Miller, who is the nearest thing England has to a Renaissance man, has singlehandedly rejuvenated that ancient and dated piece of family entertainment.


Many decades ago I saw those past glories of the stage, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, in Pinter's No Man's Land. The National has now revived this wonderfully mysterious play with Corin Redgrave and John Wood, and I still had a worthwhile evening. Wood is a particularly endearing actor, whom one remembers from Amadeus, and as the poet Housman in the last of Tom Stoppard's fireworks, The Invention of Love. I must declare a personal interest in that Wood played the lead in the original production of Ira Levin's Deathtrap. I was a lucky co-producer with Roger Stevens and Alfred de Liagre in that venture and was therefore able to use the proceeds to finance half a dozen other plays. The Royal Shakespeare's production of King John was a revelation. I had never seen this forgotten play, which is most pertinent to our world today.


When you grow old some of your friends die on you. When I was at the Bar the head of my chambers was Lord Hailsham, three times Lord Chancellor, a great scholar and a loyal friend, who has now died. My first pupilage at the Bar was served with Sir Harold Cassel, one of the most humane and humorous men, and a judge. Harold had survived more than four years in a Japanese prison camp, and his family invited me to speak at his recent memorial service. For those of us who have not achieved very much in life it is a great consolation to know that a few wonderful men and women have chosen you as their friend. I am grateful for that.


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