The making of Modern Britain
The onset of a head cold from hell caused a frustrating retreat and between a streaming nose and eyes gave me a chance to read a Christmas present. I am a great fan of Marr whose writing is engaging and energetic!
Andrew Marr wrote this history of Britain, subtitled “From Queen Victoria to VE Day”, as the basis of a television series.His writing is flashy, with lots of eye-popping, jaw-dropping adjectives and over-excited generalisations!He asks urgent journalistic questions: “What’s the story? What does it mean to us now?”
The book is lively, readable and engaging. The four long chapters contain vivid character studies and colourful vignettes, some of cinematic brilliance – the sections on music halls and early British films are especially excellent. Marr has an enviable ability to unravel complex issues and expound them in simple terms. He possesses a sharp radical edge and often goes to the heart of the matter.
He pens a hilarious sketch of Lord Willoughby de Broke, who was not more than 200 years behind the times when he opposed Lloyd George’s People’s Budget in the House of Lords, a chamber so idle and ill-attended that when peers voted they would “cackle as if they had laid an egg”. HG Wells makes a characteristic appearance, copulating in the open on a copy of the Times containing an article by Mrs Humphrey Ward about the immorality of popular novelists. Montagu Norman, governor of the Bank of England, discusses spiritualism, operates by instinct and tells a colleague that he can walk through walls. The BBC governors instruct Eric Gill, carving the figures of Prospero and Ariel on the front of the new Broadcasting House, to reduce the size of the latter’s genitalia.
Marr has an acute eye for the kind of detail that puts the past in perspective and this readers cold was well nursed in the reading of these 500 pages!