London: Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1985. First Edition (presumed). Hardcover. Handwritten dedication/inscription by author. Used - Fine. Black cloth boards with gilt lettering on spine. Corners sharp. Light wear to tail of spine. Binding tight and square. Text block clean, unmarked, lightly toned from age. Endpapers have decorative maps, lightly foxed/toned. 49 color photographic plates. Handwritten dedication to prior owners by author on reverse side of FFE. Index. 18 x 26 cm. 174 pp. / Fine. Price clipped. Light foxing to flaps. Publisher's price sticker on front flap. Item #5616
The Telegraph's obituary of the author (Aug. 10, 2004):
Bernard Levin, who died on Saturday aged 75, was one of the best newspaper columnists of his age, latterly celebrated chiefly for the column he wrote in The Times from the early 1970s to the late 1990s; even before he was 30, though, he had enjoyed a career of striking brilliance and precocity in The Spectator as "Taper" (a name taken from Disraeli's Coningsby).
Colin Welch, in The Telegraph, had already set a new style for the Parliamentary sketch, treating the view of the Commons from the Press Gallery as though he were looking on to the stage from the stalls and reviewing a performance which was part high drama and part cabaret.
Levin added a ferocious wit and disdain for politicians, long before such iconoclasm became commonplace. He had moved from youthful Marxism to the Right of the Labour Party (later he became a devotee of Mrs Thatcher). Hugh Gaitskell was one of his heroes, although he did not spare the Labour leader when he made a poor speech.
His style was a mixture of wit, sharpness and schoolboy sarcasm, with large shots of Wodehouse and Beachcomber. Heavy irony was reserved for shifty politicians of the Left. When Dick Crossman accused an antagonist of "a dirty trick", Levin observed that it was just as well "that Mr Crossman has an unblemished reputation for straight-forwardness, or someone might have laughed".
After the Tories won the 1959 election, Levin gave up Taper - in despair, he said. He remained at The Spectator as deputy editor, moonlighting as theatre critic of the Daily Express. He also reviewed television for The Guardian, as one of the first to take the medium seriously. He then turned gamekeeper, appearing in the early 1960s on the satirical shows That Was the Week That Was and Not So Much a Programme More a Way of Life.
Still in his mid-thirties, Levin was at the height of his celebrity, which was largely a succes d'animosite. His acerbity as a theatre critic was famous: he and another Jewish critic, Robert Muller of the Daily Mail, were known in Shaftesbury Avenue as "the kosher butchers".
One review spent several hundred words on a description of the set, with no mention of the play, and concluded by wishing his readers a merry Christmas. A brutal review of a musical led its author, Wolf Mankowitz, to bring six showgirls carrying a coffin to the Express offices; and one evening, on a live television broadcast, Desmond Leslie stepped out of the audience and struck Levin in retaliation for his review of a show by Leslie's wife, Agnes Bernelle. Levin carried on as if unaffected, though he paused once to rub his nose.
Levin then joined the Daily Mail to write daily columns. Their comparative brevity was seen in a good light later when he wrote at greater length. At one time he was in the Guinness Book of Records - with pride, he said - for "the longest sentence ever to appear in a newspaper. One thousand six hundred and sixty-seven words. Then some bugger in India wrote a sentence very considerably longer".
Henry Bernard Levin was born August 19 1928 near St Pancras station; he was the son of a Jewish tailor, and a descendant of the emigration from Tsarist Russia. When he was a small child, his father left home, something which he believed had impaired him emotionally.
An extremely clever boy, he won an LCC scholarship to Christ's Hospital, where he was known as a "bolshie"; he closely followed the affairs of the Left from the Communist split of 1939, and hung the Red Flag from a school window to celebrate the Labour victory in 1945.
By the 1960s he had become a militant anti-Communist and a fierce supporter of the American war in Vietnam. But 20 years earlier, when he left school and was called up for National Service, he pleaded conscientious objection. He never publicly alluded to that episode, and he was ambiguous about others also. He claimed once that he had deliberately chosen the London School of Economics with a view to a political career, but later admitted that Cambridge had been his disappointed hope.
In 1953, after the LSE, he entered journalism, joining Truth, then a nursery of talent. But when the magazine supported the Suez expedition in 1956, Levin left to join The Spectator, the first real turning point in his career.
Parliament apart, he wrote - and did so for decades to come - on every imaginable subject, demonstrating a humane, well-read and distinct personality in an ornate and wholly individual style. Among the causes he championed at The Spectator were three Arabs who had been unjustly imprisoned on St Helena, and the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover.
The 1960s ended acrimoniously. He left the Mail, and in 1973 was embroiled in a libel action with Lord Rothermere, after Levin had written a savage account of the closure of the Daily Sketch. That appeared in The Times, with which he remained as a thrice- or twice-weekly columnist until 1996.
In the late 1970s, Levin appeared to undergo a "mid-life crisis", with several symptoms. He never married, and by his own account "never philandered", but had several "serious, deep and important" relationships with women, notably Arianna Stassinopoulos, the Greek hostess and writer who subsequently moved to America and, as Arianna Huffington, moved into Republican politics.
In a brilliant essay in 1965, Levin had asked "Am I a Jew?" He was trying to establish his identity, as someone who knew perfectly well that he was a Jew, but one who was completely detached from Jewish life and tradition, and whose attitude to Israel was "admiration for the incredible achievement, hope that it will continue, combined with the strongest condemnation of her crime against her original Arab population and the campaign of lies she has waged ever since on the subject". (The essay got him into no little bother in Jewish circles.)
In the same article he said that he had "rejected Judaism more or less as soon as I was old enough to have any understanding of what religion was about". Such religious sympathies as he had were "with quietist faiths, like Buddhism, on the one hand, and with a straightforward message of salvation, like Christianity, on the other".
But it was to neither of these that he turned in his late forties. Instead he flirted with the notorious Indian "guru" Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, over whom he drooled embarrassingly: "[He is] the conduit along which the vital force of the universe flows". He also found some solace with an outfit called the Movement for Spiritual Awareness.
At this time, Levin withdrew from journalism for more than a year to seek his bearings. He then resumed his Times column, which divided opinion. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote with fluency and vituperation. The man who had once called Sir Alec Douglas-Home a "cretin" and an "imbecile" on television now warned against the idea that because the union leader Clive Jenkins "is a most egregious ass he is not dangerous".
He savaged Michael Foot, "half blind and at least a quarter crippled. . . the least impressive leader any party has ever had. . . unable to make his own Shadow Cabinet appointments, or indeed to blow his nose in public without his trousers falling down". He wrote movingly about the Holocaust, and entertainingly about haute cuisine and Wagner, two of his principal preoccupations.
But if he remained a household god to his devoted public, to some journalists he became the object of derision, for his mannered style as much as for his views. By the time he was in his sixties, Levin's Times column had patently lost its edge and sparkle, and increasingly seemed a routine. The sad truth was that he was suffering from Alzheimer's, and he was tactfully removed from the main comment page.
Among Levin's books were The Pendulum Years (1971), about the 1960s, A World Elsewhere (1994), about utopian or imaginary ideal societies, and Enthusiasms, a collection of essays on subjects from Vermeer to walking sticks, and cats to opera. He published half a dozen collections of journalism, and several books based on television series he had made, including Hannibal's Footsteps; To the End of the Rhine; and A Walk Up Fifth Avenue.
He was appointed CBE in 1990 (though he had once written that journalists should not accept honours), and made a member of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 1976 by the Polish government-in-exile. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of the LSE in 1977.
Levin's companion of later years, who nursed him during his last illness, was the journalist Liz Anderson.