Biographies of Guy Burgess, Francis Bacon, Richard Wagner and Ian Fleming

Biographies of Guy Burgess, Francis Bacon, Richard Wagner and Ian Fleming


STALIN’S ENGLISHMAN by Andrew Lownie (Hodder & Stoughton (£25). Guy Burgess was the most important spy in the Cambridge Spy Ring. Traitor, Marxist, homosexual, he worked for the BBC, Foreign Office, MI5, MI6 and the Russians. The Soviets who got so much information from him that they thought he must be a double agent. He was indiscreet, promiscuous, filthy, and obnoxious. People turned a blind eye. He was also charming, sensitive and civilised. “I hate Russia,” he said. “I simply loathe Russia. I’m a communist of course but I’m a British communist and I hate Russia.”  He died in lonely exile in Moscow, aged 52.

FRANCIS BACON IN YOUR BLOOD: A MEMOIR by Michael Peppiatt (Bloomsbury £25). A 21-year old heterosexual undergraduate meets a 53-year-old promiscuous artist and becomes his Boswell and confidante. Bacon, insatiable for drink, sex and gossip, is malicious, malevolent, rude and always quotable (“If you think about it clearly happiness itself is a kind of tragedy.”) Peppiatt writing in the present tense, records conversations over dinner tables verbatim and the dialogue could go straight into a play or a film, so alive is it

MY LIFE WITH WAGNER by Christian Thielemann (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25). Wagner is venerated and reviled. How do we deal with his notorious anti-Semitism and his savagery of Mendelssohn’s music?  Whenever something went wrong he would blame the Jews. But can Wagner be blamed for the fact that Rieziand Lohengrin were Hitler’s favourite operas and that the music from The Mastersingers was played at the Nazi rallies in Nuremberg. “I can’t hold Wagner musically responsible for the misuse of his works by the Nazis,” says Thielemann, the German conductor, who thinks only German speakers with a native-level understanding should perform Wagner. He writes knowledgably about the complexities and infinite interpretations possible of the score and the acoustic challenges of the Beyreuth Festival Theatre.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TYPEWRITER Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters (Bloomsbury £25). “There is the point,” said Fleming as early as 1956, “that one simply can’t go on writing the single bang-bang, kiss-kiss book. I am finding it increasingly difficult to work up enthusiasm for Bond and his unlikely adventures.” 60 years on James Bond is still with us. Interestingly, his first story very nearly did not get published. His publisher thought the cynical brutality was sadistic and deeply shocking. Fleming wanted Bond to be unobtrusive. Exotic thongs happen to and around him but he would be a neutral figure, an anonymous instrument wielded by a Government Department. What would Fleming think of Daniel Craig?  He thought Sean Connery a real charmer, a good actor with the right looks and physique.

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