The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, May 25th 2015

    Jude Law swaggered onto the stage last night at Hay Festival. He was there to take part in a reading of Simon Garfield’s “My Dear Bessie”, an epistolary play constructed from letters exchanged during the second world war by two young lovers, Chris Barker and Bessie Moore. The correspondence is incomplete. As we learn early in the play, Chris, who was stationed first in north Africa and then in Greece, had to destroy a cache of Bessie’s letters, read opposite Law by Louise Brealey, to save space at an army encampment. The missing links are subtly sketched in by their granddaughter, Irena (Mariah Gale). In spite of the gaps in the written record, Garfield has shaped a love story that’s both cheeky and poignant. In front of 1,000 people—mainly female—in the Tata Tent, it got a standing ovation.

    read more » BookscultureHay FestivalSimon WillisTheatre

    ~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, May 23rd 2015

    The crowds at the Hay Festival are teeming. From the queues outside the Tata Tent, you’d think the historian Antony Beevor was some middle-ranking rock star. Last year, 250,000 tickets were sold; this time the organisers are confident it’ll be many more. And, as the revolving slideshow on screens around the site reminds us, Hay is just the hub: satellite festivals and activities reach out into five continents. It’s hard not to wonder whether Peter Florence, the founder and director, is aiming in some not too distant future to rule the world.

    read more » FestivalsHay FestivalMaggie FergussonSCIENCEtalks

    ~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, May 23rd 2015

    Teachers resorted to megaphones at the Hay Festival yesterday. With hours to go before the half-term bell, their pupils—several hundred of them—thronged the walkways between tents, eking out their lunch money in the cafés and turning cartwheels on the verges, before lifting off like a giant flock of birds at the end of the afternoon.

    In a moment of calm after their departure, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (above), former head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales (a glimpse of crimson peeping from under his black V-neck), took to the Telegraph stage in front of an audience of nearly 1000, to be interviewed by Rosie Boycott. I quailed for him. He’s 82, his hands shake, and his expression in repose is slightly haunted. Back in the 1970s, while he was rector of a seminary, training men for the priesthood,  Boycott was founding the feminist magazine Spare Rib. I didn’t expect her to cut him much slack when it came to discussing some of the thornier issues he tackles in his new memoir, “An English Spring”.

    read more » FestivalsMaggie FergussonPOLITICSRELIGIONtalks

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, May 22nd

    The Cannes film festival can be paradise. For all of its queues and its silly rules about wearing high heels on the red carpet, it also offers top-quality croissants, strolls on the beach in the sunshine, and the opportunity to stand within six feet of Salma Hayek. And then there are the films. This year’s selection has been hugely enjoyable, although a grim thread has run through it. Film after film has mapped out a harsh dystopia where people endure the cruellest imaginable ordeals. In other words, the festival’s predominant setting has been hell itself.

    read more » cultureFilmNicholas Barber

    ~ Posted by Melanie Grant, May 21st 2015

    The first thing that strikes you about enamel is the colour. Glorious, saturated colour, so rich it is worthy of ancient royalty. The Persians of the Sasanian empire (224-651AD) made an enamel hue called “the azure colour of heaven”, which is sky blue to you and me. But the name gives you an idea of the reverence enamel inspired—and still inspires. Its unmistakable vividness and gloss can be found on Byzantine plaques, “pectorals” worn by pharaohs, Ming Dynasty vases and Fabergé eggs.

    Enamelling was one of the crafts under the spotlight at this month’s London Craft Week. By inviting the public to see craftspeople at work and learn about their skills, Guy Salter, the organiser, hopes to foster a new generation of master craftsmen and ensure traditional techniques, such as enamelling, continue to flourish. "It can get pigeon-holed as being a little bit old-fashioned," says Salter.

    read more » craftDesignLondonMelanie Grantvisual arts

    ~ Posted by Georgia Grimond, May 20th 2015

    Until mid-July, 13 metres of crisp white cotton will lie stretched out in the British Library’s entrance hall. Stitched into it are sentences of text, marching in regimented lines from left to right. “Magna Carta", it begins, "From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia": it is an embroidered facsimile of the Wikipedia entry for the agreement signed 800 years ago by King John, enshrining the rights of the English people and forming the basis of the British constitution and the inspiration for America’s Bill of Rights. The occasional word—"freedom", say, or "democracy"—is picked out in blue, mimicking Wikipedia's hyperlinks. Further down you see the entry's table of contents and bold sub-headings. Punctuating the right-hand side are a series of embroidered illustrations, from the thumbnail of the original document, its tightly packed Latin text on beige parchment, to a beautifully illuminated 14th-century copy. At the bottom is a list of "External links".

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionsGeorgia GrimondPOLITICS

    ~ Posted by David Bennun, May 16th 2015

    We tend to greet the death of titans at a grand age with professions of sorrow, but also with a certain resignation. After all, what did we hope for instead? That they would live for ever? But B.B. King is different, chiefly because there was no one like B.B. King. He was a figure of towering stature whose life and career not only spanned the era of rock'n'roll, but contained it. If, as Muddy Waters put it, "the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll", then King made up a large part of its DNA. The rock-guitar solo runs in a direct line back through the British blues boom of the mid-Sixties to his clear, sustained, soaring, string-bending technique, just as his bullish, impassioned singing style prefigured so many subsequent vocalists. Try to imagine Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" or Pink Floyd's "Money" without his influence. He was a fixture on the American R&B chart before rock'n'roll arrived, and remained there while rock and soul dominated pop throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He opened shows for the Rolling Stones and collaborated with U2 at their respective commercial peaks. With his death at the age of 89 we haven't just lost a musician. It feels like a museum has burnt down.

    read more » BluescultureDavid BennunMusicRock

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, May 15th 2015

    Bryce Dessner is a professional shape-shifter. Best known as a guitarist in the maudlin indie band The National, he is also a classical composer and festival organiser. Last weekend, he was all three at once. Hosted by the Barbican Centre in London, “Mountains and Waves” was Dessner’s miniature festival of music by Americans and about America. Contemporary orchestral pieces by Dessner and his friends, among them the composers Philip Glass and Nico Muhly, rubbed shoulders with folk and electronica. On the night I went, two minimalist works were on the bill: Dessner’s “Wave Movements” and Steve Reich’s “Drumming” (1970-71), a classic of the genre. One showed when less is more; the other when less is less.

    read more » Charlie McCannclassicalcultureMusicRock

    ~ Posted by Jasper Rees, May 15th 2015

    In late 2013 I visited the bookdealer Jeff Towns, who is the human face of the Dylan Thomas industry. Many rare books, manuscripts and other collectables associated with the poet have passed through his hands, and some are still hoarded in his home in the Mumbles on the western flank of Swansea Bay. He showed me a first edition of “18 Poems” (1934), the slim volume with which Thomas announced himself at 20. And he recalled being on the phone to a potential buyer when, casually flicking through its pages, he found that the poet had graffitied two critiques of his own work: “one’s worst poem ever” on one page, and a few pages later, “Welsh masturbating Swinburne”. With its rarity value all of a sudden vastly enhanced, Towns withdrew the copy from sale.

    read more » Jasper ReesPoetryWales

    ~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, May 14th 2015

    Whatever realm it is that dead playwrights inhabit, right now there must be at least one up there smiling. Arthur Miller, the most profound of all stage analysts of the American dream, would be delighted enough with Ivo van Hove’s recent stripped-back production of “A View From the Bridge” in London, which threw out all the trappings of realism to lay bare the expressionistic power of Miller’s prose. Rarely was a returns queue more worth standing in. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Death of a Salesman”, which opened at the Noël Coward Theatre last night after a high-speed transfer from Stratford, will be the cherry on his heavenly cake.

    read more » AmericacultureIsabel LloydTheatre