Letters for May

Arson, fraud and a little poetry

This article is taken from the May 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

True cost of false claims

Jonathan Kay’s exposé of the moral panic over alleged mass graves of indigenous children in Canadian boarding schools laid out clearly the shameful political and journalistic charade of this unfortunate episode. 

What he left out was the immediate real-life impact of the affair: the epidemic of vandalism and arson attacks against Christian churches across British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada throughout June and July of 2021, apparently in response to the news reports. At least two dozen churches were damaged or destroyed by fire, and in all nearly 70 churches were damaged. These included several churches on native land, serving predominantly first nations Christians. 

In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to have his cake and eat it, telling reporters that he understands the anger felt by many, but that it is “unacceptable and wrong that acts of vandalism and arson are being seen across the country, including against Catholic churches”. Given the intimate connection between those two sentiments, Kay’s call for proper scrutiny of the original claims is all the more pertinent.

Reverend Tapani Simojoki

Fareham, Hampshire 

Selecting solutions

Michael Moore (LETTERS, APRIL) assumes that the 11+ examination is the only way of choosing pupils for state selective secondary schools, and that 11 is the only age at which this can take place. 

I disagree with both claims, often mistakenly advanced as arguments against grammar schools as such. Most German states choose grammar school entrants by assessment. 

Even in the England and Wales of the 1950s, there were a significant amount (not enough in my view) of second chances at 13 and there are good arguments for selecting at 13 anyway. There is no special reason for doing it at 11. 

If people are against grammar schools, they should say so and say why instead of pettifogging about easily solved incidental problems. Harry Harmer (LETTERS, APRIL) suggests, as far as I can see, that the grammar schools were dominated by the middle class. Not entirely. In the early 1950s the Gurney-Dixon report found about 65 per cent of grammar pupils came from working-class homes. Whatever their problems, they were nothing like as socially exclusive as the “good” comprehensives are now.

Peter Hitchens


Fraudulent fun

William Cook’s piece on official rejection of figurative art (THE POOR RELATIONS OF THE ART WORLD, MAY) touches on that “eccentric” artist, Joseph Beuys. Eccentric is polite. Whatever his merits as an artist he was a complete fraud. 

Beuys’s “truth” was that in 1944 he was rescued from his crashed dive-bomber by Tartars and nurtured like Mowgli. He was covered in fat and felt, which defined his later appearance. It is complete bollocks, as German records show. He said he’d talked to James Joyce long after Joyce was dead.

In 1983 he had a show at the V&A where I was the publisher. We produced a book on his drawings. He spouted earnest anarchist/socialist thoughts. When I had to deliver some copies of the catalogue to his hotel, it was to 150 Piccadilly that I came — which turned out to be The Ritz. Perhaps he saw no inconsistency, and that it was scope for one of his “happenings” — or “room service” as we would call it. We both enjoyed these happenings. 

Nicky Bird


Rescuing the classics 

Thank you Robert Thicknesse! There is a case for Mozart and his librettist-turned- New York grocer, Lorenzo da Ponte. Others can let their toes do the tapping for Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. But for me the most enchanting fusion of a composer with a genuine poet will always be Jim Parker and John Betjeman whose collaborations across four albums between 1974 and 1981 Mr Thicknesse rightly celebrates and endeavours to save from oblivion (BETJEMAN’S FAB FREAK-OUT, MAY).

The combination of Betjeman’s deadpan reading of his poems with Parker’s sometimes jaunty, sometimes heartbreakingly yearning, music is matchless. The closest to it that pop music offers is not rap (which Thicknesse rightly observes introduces a rhythmic emphasis that Betjeman eschews) but the mournful vocals that Neil Tennant intones over Chris Lowe’s keyboard synth-pop when the Pet Shop Boys were in their considerable pomp. 

That three of the most thoughtful and culturally-laden singer-songwriters of the last 40 years, Suggs, Jarvis Cocker and Nick Cave, are fans of the Betjeman and Parker collaborations says it all.

It is high time these classics were re-released along with the BBC’s magical Matthew Bourne-choreographed interpretation, starring Nigel Hawthorne. All human wistfulness is there.

Peter Swinton


Just my kipper tie …

For the record (WORDS & MUSIC, MAY), Janice Nicholls said “I’ll give it foive”, in the purest West Midlands lilt.

Professor Dominic Regan

Bath, Somerset

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover