Finished Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan by D.R. Thorpe. Biography of the former prime minister. It's a hefty 800-odd pages, but fortunately only about 600 without the appendices and notes. These days MacMillan is remembered mostly as a quaint old-fashioned Edwardian gent, best known for the slightly misquoted slogan "you've never had it so good", who succeeded electorally through riding a tide of prosperity.
The biography is very sympathetic and seeks to correct this image. At the start of his career Macmillan was seen as on the far left of the Conservative party, a promoter of Keynes before Keynes was popular, and as a troublemaking rebel was confined to the backbenches for a decade while his contemporaries climbed the ministerial ladder. Thorpe points out that Macmillan came from a business background (his family were the Macmillans of Macmillan Books) rather than an aristocratic background. So Macmillan's fuddy-duddy image is a little unfair: he was a modernizer why by shrewdly adopting an old-fashioned demeanour actually managed to get through some changes.
Macmillan was aware of the inflation/unemployment trade-off and tolerated a shockingly high inflation rate of 2% to help keep it down: this earned him the hatred of Thatcherites after his office. He quietly tried to disentangle Britain from Empire, most famously with the "Winds of Change" speech which intensely annoyed white South Africans by recognizing African self-determination. He tried to bring Britain into the European free trade zone, but was vetoed by de Gaulle.
In the end the weight of the Profumo scandal, the European failure left him politically vulnerable, especially to a much younger and more modern-seeming Harold Wilson.
In terms of his personal life, Macmillan's wife had an affair with a colleague and wanted a divorce, which was impossible in those days without ending his political career: eventually they seem to have had some kind of rapprochement. Macmillan may have coined the phrase "banksters" in the economic crisis of the Thirties. Macmillan also fought in the trenches in WW1: he had a reputation for bravery. However,there's not much detail available on what he thought and felt: this was an age of emotional reserve which extended to his diaries.
Overall, a good biography if you're interested in British parliamentary politics. The length might make it a struggle if you're not. Does give some insight into perenniel issues of Conservative party politics, where success is more determined by who doesn't dislike you than who does.
Saw a preview of The Captain of Köpenick at the National Theatre. Adaptation of a famous German play, which Girl B told me is a standard school text in Germany: apparently it was one of the first plays to be in regional (Berlin) dialogue. The plot is loosely based on a real incident in 1910 when a con-man successfully absconded with a town's treasury by donning a uniform.
Liked it a lot. Antony Sher does a great job as Voigt, an ex-con driven to extremes by a bureaucratic Catch 22. The adapted dialogue is fast and fun. It's a pretty long play at nearly three hours, apparently even that is heavily cut, but the acting and humour keeps it interesting.
Has the elaborate set making heavy use of the Drum Revolve keeps the changes quick and has some good Expressionist angular leaning buildings.
Good play, well worth seeing.
Saw Django Unchained at the cinema. Quentin Tarantino's tribute to the spaghetti western, which takes on the institution of slavery with exactly the amount of subtlety you'd expect.
I wasn't that keen on "Inglourious Basterds" but liked this one a lot more. Has some great over-the-top performances, especially Samuel L. Jackson as the grovelling house slave and Christoph Waltz as the meek-seeming but lethal dentist turned bounty hunter.
The bloodbath violence doesn't really get going until the end of the movie, but is more effective when it does: has the same kind of cartoonish gore as Kill Bill.
Overall, well worth seeing if you like any Quentin Tarantino movies. Probably not one for the easily shocked or offended though.
Socioeconomics. Where girls lead in science. Britain's not broken: but needs to shift up a gear.
Video. Young Bill Gates jumps over chair. 1955 Conservative Party Political Broadcast with Harold MacMillan. (Interesting contrast with today: "The Socialists are for controls and austerity, but the Conservative policy is for incentive and expansion... Almost twice as many homes built last year as under Labour").
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