Winston Churchill wanted “to destroy all traces” of
telegrams revealing a Nazi plot to reinstate the former King Edward VIII to the
British throne in return for his support during the second world war, newly
released cabinet papers have revealed.
The telegrams document Nazi plans to kidnap the Duke of
Windsor – the title granted to Edward following his abdication in 1936 – and
his wife, Wallis Simpson, when they reached Portugal after fleeing their Paris
home when France fell to German forces in 1940.
The Cabinet Office file published on Thursday by the
National Archives reveals how Churchill appealed to the US president, Dwight
Eisenhower, and the French government to prevent publication of the intercepted
German telegrams for “at least 10 or 20 years”.
Churchill, the UK prime minister, said the captured German
telegrams offering Edward the British throne in the event of a Nazi invasion of
Britain were “tendentious and unreliable” and likely to leave the misleading
impression that the duke “was in close touch with German agents and was
listening to suggestions that were disloyal”.
Churchill made his appeal to Eisenhower after learning that
a microfilm copy of the telegrams, which were found in German archives at the
end of the war, had been sent to the US State Department and were being
considered for inclusion in the official US history of the conflict.
Eisenhower told Churchill on 2 July 1953 that US
intelligence shared his assessment that the communications were “obviously
concocted with some idea of promoting German propaganda and weakening western
resistance” and were “totally unfair” to the duke.
Churchill told the US president that fears for the duke’s
safety had led to his appointment as governor of the Bahamas, part of
“strenuous efforts to get him away from Europe beyond the reach of the enemy”.
The German telegrams claim that the duke and duchess reacted
with surprise when it was suggested to them that Edward might yet have another
opportunity to take the throne. “Both seem to be completely bound up in
formalistic ways of thought since they replied that according to British
constitution this was not possible after abdication,” one telegram says. “When
[an] agent then remarked the course of war may produce changes even in the
British constitution the Duchess in particular became very thoughtful.”
Churchill told cabinet on 12 August 1953, in a top secret
memorandum, that the duke had no knowledge of the telegrams. “The late King
[George VI], who had seen the documents, confined himself to insisting that if
publication could not be avoided, the Duke of Windsor should be given full and
timely warning,” the papers reveal.
Churchill succeeded only in delaying the publication of the
telegrams for a few years. When they did come to light, in 1957, duke denounced
them as “complete fabrications”.
• This article was amended on 20 July 2017. Due to an
editing error, an earlier version incorrectly said that Edward VIII abdicated
in 1938. This has been corrected. The picture caption said that in 1937 Edward
was later to become King Edward VIII. This has also been corrected.
Kenneth Harris interviews HRH Duke of Windsor, the former
King Edward VIII, and his spouse Wallis, Duchess of Windsor
Britain’s great pyrrhic defeat or inverse victory of 1940 has
been brought to the screen as a terrifying, shattering spectacle by Christopher
Nolan. He plunges you into the chaotic evacuation of the British Expeditionary
Force from northern France after the catastrophic battle of Dunkirk –helped by
the now legendary flotilla of small civilian craft. It is part disaster movie,
part compressed war epic, and all horribly appropriate for these Brexit times.
Nolan’s Dunkirk has that kind of blazing big-screen
certainty that I last saw in James Cameron’s Titanic or Paul Greengrass’s
United 93. It is very different to his previous feature, the bafflingly
overhyped sci-fi convolution Interstellar. This is a powerful, superbly crafted
film with a story to tell, avoiding war porn in favour of something desolate
and apocalyptic, a beachscape of shame, littered with soldiers zombified with
defeat, a grimly male world with hardly any women on screen.
It is Nolan’s best film so far. It also has Hans Zimmer’s
best musical score: an eerie, keening, groaning accompaniment to a nightmare,
switching finally to quasi-Elgar variations for the deliverance itself. Zimmer
creates a continuous pantonal lament, which imitates the dive bomber scream and
queasy turning of the tides, and it works in counterpoint to the deafening
artillery and machine-gun fire that pretty much took the fillings out of my
teeth and sent them in a shrapnel fusillade all over the cinema auditorium.
The film is, of course, on a massive Nolanesque scale. The
Battle of Dunkirk is traditionally seen in terms of a miraculous underdog
littleness that somehow redeemed the disaster. The plucky small boats countered
the memory of a British army dwarfed by Wehrmacht strategy and a British
establishment humiliated by the suspicion that it was only Hitler’s
miscalculation or mysterious realpolitik in halting the German advance that
permitted the evacuation in the first place. A different kind of Dunkirk movie
might have included High Command scenes in Berlin showing the generals arguing
with the Führer about precisely this. Maybe Nolan didn’t want his film hijacked
by a lot of satirical fake-subtitle YouTubers.
The event itself entered Britain’s pop-cultural bloodstream
after the war by way of the opening titles to TV’s Dad’s Army, with its Nazi
map-arrows pushing north and the Flanagan theme inspired by Leslie Norman’s
1958 film Dunkirk, starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough. But Nolan is
not having any morale-raising laughter or chirpiness. His disaster is big; the
stakes are high, the anxiety is unbearable.
We are forced into eardrum-perforating action straight away.
A squaddie named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) scrambles desperately to the beach
through the Dunkirk streets under heavy fire and sees the bad-dream panorama in
front of him: hundreds of thousands of stranded French and British soldiers
waiting all over the sand. Corpses are being buried there. There are no ships
to rescue them and – apparently – no air cover to prevent them being picked
off. Tommy is to come into contact with fellow soldier, Alex (Harry Styles,
making a perfectly strong acting debut). Meanwhile, RAF pilot Farrier (Tom
Hardy) is, in fact, engaging the enemy overhead and taking desperate risks with
fuel. A grizzled naval officer played by Kenneth Branagh – channelling Jack
Hawkins in The Cruel Sea (1953) – broodingly scans the horizon. And on the home
front, a Mr Dawson, laconically played by Mark Rylance, takes his little
cruiser, joins the people’s armada, encounters a traumatised officer (Cillian
Murphy) and endures a terrible sacrifice, which he lives to see mythologised
and falsified by the press.
In military terms, Dunkirk is almost entirely static for
most of its running time: the battle is over before the film has begun, and
there is no narrative context of the sort offered in Leslie Norman’s version.
Nolan surrounds his audience with chaos and horror from the outset, and amazing
images and dazzlingly accomplished set pieces on a huge 70mm screen,
particularly the pontoon crammed with soldiers extending into the churning sea,
exposed to enemy aircraft. It is an architectural expression of doomed homeward
yearning. There is a tremendous image when some of the soldiers do manage to
scramble aboard a destroyer, and are welcomed with tea and that now vanished
treat, bread-and-jam, and so tiny rectangles of red surreally speckle the
grey-and-khaki picture. It is also persuasively horrible when soldiers wait by
the surf’s edge, which has become a lapping scummy froth, as if these are the
survivors of some horrible natural disaster.
Christopher Nolan might have found some inspiration from the
Dunkirk scene in Joe Wright’s 2007 movie Atonement, but otherwise he brings his
own colossal and very distinctive confidence to this story. It’s a visceral
piece of film-making.
j’ai la joie de vous annoncer officiellement, avec presque
deux ans de retard, que mon livre “The Italian Gentleman” est depuis quelques
semaines chez l’imprimeur et qu’il sera disponible dans les librairies du monde
entier le 26 octobre 2017.
Afin de bien clarifier les choses en termes d’édition (et
d’éditeurs), ce livre verra tout d’abord le jour en langue anglaise (donc en
édition originale) chez deux éditeurs majeurs : Thames & Hudson à Londres
et Rizzoli à New York. Les deux éditions sont identiques, sauf la couverture
qui sera très légèrement différente. Thames & Hudson (mon éditeur
principal) couvrira prioritairement les marchés européens, moyen et extrême
orientaux tandis que Rizzoli couvrira prioritairement le marché nord-américain.
L’année prochaine, en 2018, trois autres éditions sont
prévues : une édition en langue française (avec a priori un contenu
photographique légèrement différent et la publication de nombreuses photos
inédites), une édition en langue italienne et une autre en langue allemande.
Les pré-commandes de l’édition originale sont d’ores et déjà
ouvertes chez Amazon.fr comme vous pouvez le constater en suivant ce lien : The
Comme vous pouvez vous en douter, et au vu de l’immense
investissement personnel et financier que ce volume a représenté pour mon
équipe, pour mon camarade Lyle Roblin (photographe du livre) et pour moi-même,
toute pré-commande de votre part sera la bienvenue et sera très (très)
L’événement de lancement et de dédicace du livre aura lieu au
mois de novembre à Paris dans un lieu très prestigieux. La date et le lieu de
l’événement vous seront révélés dans ces colonnes durant les premiers jours de
En attendant, et pour vous remercier de votre patience et de
votre fidélité, j’ai le plaisir de partager avec vous aujourd’hui en
exclusivité la préface intégrale du livre en langue française.
En espérant que ce premier paragraphe vous donne envie de
faire l’acquisition du livre, je vous donne rendez-vous en novembre pour une
soirée de dédicace qui s’annonce d’ores et déjà comme exceptionnelle.
THE ITALIAN GENTLEMAN
par Hugo Jacomet
Photographies Lyle Roblin
Ce livre constitue, de très loin, le projet le plus long, le
plus excitant, le plus exigeant, le plus émouvant mais aussi, et surtout, le
plus complexe de ma vie d’auteur, de chroniqueur de l’élégance masculine
classique et peut-être, l’avenir me le dira, de ma vie d’homme tout entière.
Si j’utilise ici, à dessein, le terme complexe, si cher à
Edgard Morin, c’est qu’il décrit à merveille ce projet éditorial extravagant
qui aura occupé presque trois années de mon existence.
J’étais parfaitement conscient, au moment où j’ai accepté
d’écrire ce livre, que la tâche consistant à tenter de rendre compte de
l’apport exceptionnel de l’Italie à l’élégance des hommes, surtout depuis les
années 50, serait compliquée. Mais je n’imaginais pas un seul instant que la
tentative de décrypter, à défaut d’expliquer, le style italien masculin dans
toutes ses dimensions, tout son foisonnement et tout son génie, demanderait
autant d’efforts et, oserais-je le dire, autant de sacrifices.
Je savais, dès le début du projet, qu’il me faudrait passer
un peu de temps de l’autre côté des Alpes afin d’approfondir ma connaissance,
que je considérais par ailleurs comme déjà excellente, du sujet. Pourtant après
quelques semaines seulement en Lombardie, à Rome et dans la baie de Naples j’ai
vite compris que j’avais très largement surestimé mon expertise dans le domaine
et que mener – vraiment- à bien cette entreprise allait me prendre du temps.
Beaucoup de temps.
Au début de l’année 2015, en pleine période de finition de
mon premier livre « The Parisian Gentleman », deux choix s’offrent alors à moi.
Soit je décide d’écrire le livre depuis mon bureau parisien
avec les outils d’aujourd’hui (comprenez l’internet et les e-mails) en
demandant à mon ami le talentueux photographe Lyle Roblin, canadien de
naissance et milanais d’adoption, d’effectuer des prises de vue dans certaines
maisons – tailleurs, chemisiers, bottiers, fabricants d’accessoires –
sélectionnées par mes soins.
Soit je prends le risque de me lancer à corps perdu dans une
entreprise déraisonnable à tous points de vue (surtout économique) et de
produire cet ouvrage « à l’ancienne », en m’installant – littéralement – avec
Sonya mon épouse adorée, en Italie pour une année entière (qui se transformera,
finalement, en presque deux années) et de sillonner le pays sans relâche à la
recherche des meilleurs artisans oeuvrant, en pleine lumière ou dans
l’obscurité, à l’élégance des gentlemen du monde entier.
Le livre que vous tenez aujourd’hui entre les mains est donc
le fruit de ces deux années d’immersion totale au cœur de l’Italie de
l’élégance masculine : plus de 100 ateliers, boutiques, usines, showrooms
visités un par un, plus de 70 diners aussi gargantuesques que sympathiques de
Biella à Rome, de Milan à Naples, de Florence à Bologne, plus de 15 000 prises
de vue effectuées par mon complice Lyle, sans qui ce livre n’aurait jamais vu
le jour, probablement plus de 4000 kilomètres parcourus dans la bien-nommée «
botte » italienne en voiture, en train, en avion, en taxi, en Vespa et à pied
et, finalement, plus de cinquante maisons choisies, étudiées, photographiées et
chroniquées dans cet Italian Gentleman intégralement produit « à la main » et
qui, je l’espère, vous servira de guide dans cet immense labyrinthe aussi
fascinant que déroutant de l’élégance à l’italienne.
A l’instar de mon précédent ouvrage « The Parisian Gentleman
», ce livre n’a pas pour objectif de constituer un catalogue exhaustif et
parfait de toutes les maisons transalpines spécialisées dans l’art tailleur et
bottier. Dix livres n’y suffiraient sans doute pas. Cet « Italian Gentleman »
n’a pas non plus la prétention de raconter avec une précision académique
l’histoire du tailoring Italien, de ses racines et de tous ses acteurs, car
cela demanderait le travail d’une vie entière pour le faire correctement.
Ce voyage au cœur de l’Italie de l’élégance masculine est
plus simplement le compte-rendu d’un voyage personnel de deux ans m’ayant
conduit des showrooms les plus luxueux aux ateliers les plus sommaires, des
palaces les plus rutilants aux sous-sols les plus crasseux et des usines les
plus chirurgicalement organisées aux salons de maitres-tailleurs ayant appris
leur art dans les années 30 et 40 et produisant encore dans leur propre salle à
manger des vêtements comme plus personne n’en réalise sur terre.
C’est de cet amalgame anarchique, de cette sédimentation
complexe, de cette histoire fabuleuse, mais que personne ne raconte de la même
manière de l’autre côté des Alpes, que j’ai tenté de rendre compte avec ce
Deux années à essayer de trouver son chemin dans un tel
foisonnement humain, cela vous change un homme. En ce qui me concerne, je ne
serai plus jamais le même, et pas uniquement parce que depuis un certain séjour
de quatre mois à Naples, je parle désormais avec les mains…
— — —
Pré-commande du livre disponible sur Amazon : The Italian
Nothing about Nadar was ever straightforward, as the
photograph on the cover of When I Was a Photographer reveals. There he is, a
dapper daredevil in his top hat and floppy cravat, in the basket of a gas
balloon, floating high among the clouds, binoculars at the ready, ballast and
grapnel hook within easy reach. He’s scanning the horizon, coolly indulging one
of his ardent enthusiasms: human flight.
But the photograph is a fake: it was staged in his plush
studio on the top floor of 35, Boulevard des Capucines, in the heart of
fashionable Paris. The clouds are a painted backdrop, the basket dangles in
perfect safety a couple of feet above the floor of the studio. Even that intent
gaze is a con: Nadar, who was myopic, could see into the distance only with his
He was 80 when he published Quand j’étais photographe, now
translated for the first time into English and recently published by MIT Press.
The book presents a fresh opportunity to consider a bizarre and compelling
character whose genius blossomed in mid-19th-century Paris just as Baron
Haussmann, under orders from Emperor Napoleon III, was radically reshaping and
modernising the French capital by tearing down medieval neighborhoods and
laying out broad, tree-lined boulevards.
Half a century before he published When I Was a
Photographer, Nadar was already a notorious Paris bohemian and a celebrated
caricaturist. Then, in his mid-30s, he abruptly emerged as the world’s first
great portrait photographer. He made it his mission to create individual
portraits of the entire Parisian cultural elite, from Alexandre Dumas to Honoré
Daumier, from Sarah Bernhardt to Hector Berlioz, each one a penetrating likeness
that captured what he called the “moral intelligence” of the sitter and
demanded to be appreciated as a work of art.
In the age of the selfie, Nadar reminds us of the brave
beginnings of a medium that changed the world. A pioneer photographer with any
ambition needed to be part scientist (Nadar liked to call the darkroom his
laboratory), part artist, part salesman – and yet a whiff of the mountebank
clung to the nascent profession.
Though Nadar believed fervently in the artistic value of
photography, he also understood that photographs and publicity work hand in
hand. The self-portrait-as-balloonist, probably taken in 1864, was a carefully
thought out exercise in self-promotion, essentially a publicity shot designed
to sell two publications: a memoir and a manifesto.
The memoir was a breathless account of his disastrous flight
in a humongous gas balloon he christened Le Géant. He had built it with the
express purpose of proving the futility of attempting to navigate in balloons –
Nadar believed the future of flight would be in “aero-locomotives”, an idea
which baffled his contemporaries. He demonstrated the perils of ballooning with
his epic second ascent in Le Géant: it ended with a crash-landing that dragged
on for half an hour, as the balloon bounced perilously through a rural
landscape, nearly killing everyone aboard. The catastrophe made headlines from
Paris to New York.
The manifesto, called Le Droit au Vol (The Right to Flight),
is a polemic in favour of “heavier-than-air” aerial navigation – and against
the helplessness of balloons wafted here and there by the wind. “When he wants
to,” Nadar writes, “man will fly like a bird, better than a bird – because … it
is certain that man will be obliged to fly better than a bird in order to fly
just as well.” He sent the manuscript to his friend Victor Hugo, who replied in
an open letter – modestly addressed “To the Whole World” – in which he hailed
Nadar as a prophet and a hero. Nadar evidently agreed; witness the pose he
struck in the faux-ballooning photo: Prophetic Hero Aloft.
One of the more amusing chapters in When I Was a
Photographer tells the story of how, when Paris was besieged by the Prussians
in 1870, Nadar established the world’s first airmail service, organising a
fleet of balloons to float sacks of correspondence over enemy lines. There was
one problem with the scheme: the mail could get out (as long as the balloon
landed beyond the reach of the Prussian forces), but because balloons can’t be
steered, return mail couldn’t be sent back in.
The ingenious solution, proposed to Nadar by an anonymous
citizen, was photographic – or, to be precise, micrographic. The return
correspondence was photographed on microfilm and the tiny negative strapped to
a carrier pigeon’s leg. Once safely in Paris, the microfilm was enlarged, the
precious letters distributed. “Our Paris, strangled by its anxiety over its
absent ones,” Nadar writes, “finally breathed.”
Who was this curious creature? Born Gaspard-Félix Tournachon
in Paris in 1820 (Nadar was a nickname that became a pseudonym), he was a
promising but erratic student. His father, a publisher and bookseller, went
bust when Nadar was 13 and died four years later. From the age of 16, Nadar was
essentially on his own; instead of family, he had friends, a network of
bohemians who lived in garrets, assembled in cafes, and wrote or painted – or
at least aspired to write or paint.
Nadar wanted to write and called himself a man of letters.
But in fact he was a hack journalist and a mediocre novelist. He drew with
greater success, and by the time he was 30 was better known as a caricaturist
than a writer. He spent a great deal of time and energy satirizing the
political aspirations of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon I,
but no amount of ridicule could slow the rise of Louis-Napoléon, and when he
proclaimed himself emperor in 1852 he dispensed with the liberal pieties of the
Republic and muzzled the press. Political caricature, which time and again had
swayed French public opinion, was expressly banned.
Nadar took refuge in the cultural life of the capital. He
launched an epic project (he liked to think big): a series of four outsized
lithographs depicting 1,200 luminaries, with a separate sheet devoted to
writers, playwrights and actors, artists and musicians. He only ever got around
to a first sheet, showing the writers and journalists, but the 250 caricatures
in the Panthéon-Nadar secured his fame. A financial flop (only 136 copies of
the lithograph were sold), it was a critical triumph – “The Panthéon-Nadar will
be the joy of every museum, of every intelligent salon” – and made Nadar a
household name in Paris.
Ambitious and chronically restless (his friend and fellow
bohemian Baudelaire exclaimed: “Nadar, the most astonishing expression of
vitality”), he veered off in a new direction as soon as the lithograph was
published. Having paid for his feckless younger brother to apprentice with a
professional photographer, he helped set him up with his own studio – and in
the process caught the bug.
“Photography is a marvelous discovery,” he wrote a couple of
years after his debut in 1855, “a science that engages the most elevated
intellects, an art that sharpens the wits of the wisest souls – and the
practical application of which lies within the capacity of the shallowest
What set his own work apart, in his estimation, was his feel
for light and the connection he made with the sitter. The early camera was a
bulky box perched on four rickety legs. When the photographer ducked under a
black cloth to peer through the lens, the contraption looked like a giant caped
spider staring with a single dark eye. Nadar relied on the flow of his famously
charming banter to trick the sitter into ignoring this unnerving instrument.
An early portrait of Théophile Gautier shows his friend
unbuttoned in every respect, dressed in an exotic-looking robe over a pale
shirt left open at the neck. Gautier also sports a loosely knotted,
flamboyantly striped scarf; one hand is buried to the wrist down the front of
his trousers, an insolent gesture just shy of obscene. He could only be a
bohemian, a wild and unconventional artist, the sort who would espouse art for
art’s sake (in fact, Gautier coined the phrase). Under a prominent brow and a
broad, brightly lit forehead, the eyes, baggy and shaded, gaze off into the
distance. It’s not that he’s unaware of the camera; he’s snubbing it.
Nadar had a nickname for his friend Théophile: le Théos, as
in the Greek for god. Already celebrated as a poet, novelist, critic,
playwright and travel writer, Gautier was not yet, at the time of the
photograph, at the peak of his fame. But his pose suggests that he saw no
reason to question himself or to doubt that he’d enjoy the approving judgment
Gautier was one of hundreds of writers, artists and
musicians who posed for Nadar. Their names, however, are not dropped in When I
Was a Photographer. The book is a grab-bag of unrelated pieces, some of them
only tenuously connected to photography. There are gems, flashes of charm and
brilliance, and also long stretches that will puzzle today’s reader. Nadar
wrote for his crowd, a plugged-in elite. He never stops to explain himself to
The most engrossing (and ghoulish) of the chapters,
Homicidal Photography, is about a notorious murder case of 1882: a pharmacist
who killed his wife’s lover with the help of his wife and brother. Nadar
doesn’t identify the perpetrators until the very end, and only indirectly, by
giving the name of the pharmacy.
Who killed whom isn’t the issue, as far as Nadar is
concerned. For him, the point of the story is the power of a single photograph
to shape public opinion. The victim’s corpse, fished from the Seine where it
was dumped, was photographed by the police, and the grotesque image inflamed
the passions of the crowd. “The whole mob set to barking,” Nadar writes,
“howling on this trail of blood.”
None of the other chapters is as dramatic; many are mere
anecdotes illustrating the newness of photography and the incomprehension with
which it was greeted. Written near the end of his life, When I Was a
Photographer is more of a postscript than an introduction. Digressive,
allusive, at times almost evasive, it gives the flavour of Nadar as a writer,
but not much in the way of practical information.
The bare-bones chronology at the back of the English
translation was lifted from the excellent, fact-filled catalogue (now, sadly,
out of print, but sometimes available in good used book stores) of the glorious
mid-1990s exhibition of Nadar’s work at the Musée d’Orsay and the Metropolitan
Museum of Art. That catalogue remains the best way to get to know the
enchanting and maddening Nadar.
Another way is to look closely at his photographs. He had
future generations in mind when assembling his portrait gallery of eminent
contemporaries; he wanted to present posterity with a “convincing and
sympathetic likeness” of the people he admired. Roland Barthes (who thought
Nadar was the world’s greatest photographer) confessed that his own fascination
with photography was “tinged with necrophilia … a fascination with what has
died but is represented as wanting to be alive”.
We can’t really know someone by peering at a photograph
taken 150 years ago (the same is true of a selfie taken 15 minutes ago). Yet
the magic of Nadar’s portraits – their sincerity, their freshness, the
unwavering faith they demonstrate in the possibility of capturing a piercingly
accurate psychological likeness – tempts us to forget our scepticism, to look
past the sepia tint, the old style hats and coats, and our doubts about the
veracity of photographic images. We’re tempted, when we first see them, to
trust the spark of recognition, that instant when we come face to face with a
fellow being who’s alive and knowable.
Other iems like the snake belt seem to have been oprimatily
worn in England. Some like the snake belt have almost disappeared. The
so-called 'snake-belt' was at one time an extremely common item of English (and
indeed of British) school uniform, although it tended to be worn on many other
occasions too as part of regular boyswear. It consisted of an elasticated
strip, fastened at the front with an S-shaped metal hook-buckle fashioned as a
snake; it was, obviously, this feature of the belt which gave it its popular
The so-called 'snake-belt' was at one time an extremely
common item of English (and indeed of British) school uniform, although it
tended to be worn on many other occasions too as part of regular boyswear. It
consisted of an elasticated strip, fastened at the front with an S-shaped metal
hook-buckle fashioned as a snake; it was, obviously, this feature of the belt
which gave it its popular name. A metal slide, together with a loop in the
belt, enabled it to be adjusted to an individual boy's waist far more
sensitively than could be done with the usual tang and series of holes and
also, of course, allowed its length to be increased as a boy grew. The slide
and loop arrangement also ensured that there was no long end left dangling - an
important matter of safety during the frequent rough-and-tumble of boy life.
Sometimes, but not always, a flap was provided behind the snake-buckle. Boys'
short and long trousers were provided with loops through which the belt could be
We are not sure precisely when the snake belt first appeared
or who invented it. It was clearly being worn by the 1860s, but we are not sure
that it was a specifically school style. Another portrait shows three brothers
wearing tunics with snake belts over them. We do not know if these were school
outfits. The earliest we note the snake belt in the photographic record was
belts worn with tunic suits by two Glasgow brothers in 1863. An Origin in
Most items of what has come to be regarded as 'traditional'
English/British school uniform were borrowed from sportswear of the late 19th
or early 20th century and in this respect the snake-belt is no exception, for
it was in sportswear that this distinctive item of dress first appeared. In
1888 the famous English cricketer W. G. Grace declared that 'braces
['suspenders' in America] are not worn when playing cricket': belts, he
considered, were less restrictive of movement. [Cunnington and Mansfield, p.
31.] The snake-belt was a favourite form. The early examples were made from
silk and were often advertised as 'cricket and lawn tennis belts', as in a
catalogue of 1907: 'ORDINARY CRICKET AND LAWN TENNIS BELTS / Silk, striped
colours fitted with snake buckles, each 2/6 / plain ... 2/0'. [Aldbrugham, p.
994.] The sums of money are in the British pre-decimal coinage and stand for
two shillings and six pence and two shillings respectively: 12.5p and 10p in
modern British currency). As the advertisement states, they were available in a
single colour ('plain') or in stripes: where there were stripes they consisted
of two outer ones in one colour and a central one in a contrasting colour. The
different colours meant that sporting clubs - cricket clubs, for example -
could obtain them in their own club colours. Not surprisingly, schoolboys would
wear them in school colours with cricket flannels when playing in school
cricket matches. From there they were adopted as part of school uniform wear.
Their availability in a wide range of single or twinned
colours meant that they could be readily obtained in school colours to match
those of blazer, school cap, tie, and badge. The travel writer Eric Newby
recalls visits to the Boys' Shop at the world-famous Harrod's in London in the
1920s and '30s to be kitted out with, amongst other items of school uniform,
'flannel shorts supported by belts striped in the school colours with
snake-head buckles. [A Traveller's Life, p. 44.] Occasionally, they might be
compulsory but more often they were optional. At my own schools in Luton, Beds.
they were not compulsory but many boys wore them. At Hart Hill Primary School,
which introduced a school uniform during my time as a pupil there, the
snake-belt had two brown stripes and a central yellow stripe. At Luton Grammar
School, where I started in 1957, the belt had two red stripes and a central
yellow stripe. The secondary school which my elder brother attended had two
dark blue stripes and a central pale blue stripe. Those worn by other boys whom
I knew in the town had two black stripes with a central red or a central yellow
stripe, two maroon stripes with a central grey or a central white stripe, and
two green stripes with a central yellow stripe. But other combinations were
Out of school uniform, a boy would still often support his
trousers with such a belt, usually his school one. You could, however, obtain
them in with two black stripes and a central white stripe: since black and
white were the colours of the Luton Town Football Club, some boys in my home
town wore a snake-belt with those colours when going to matches on Saturday
afternoons. They might also wear them on other occasions out of school in order
to declare their allegiance to the local football team.
Changes in the 1930s
At first, snake-belts had been made quite wide - 1.75 inches
(44 mm) - and occasionally they incorporated two snake-buckles, one above the
other, as in an early 20th-century postcard-size photograph in my possession.
This width was not really suitable for boys, especially smaller ones; the belts
also had insufficient elasticity and tended to become loose. In the 1930s the
width was reduced to 1.25 inches (32 mm) whilst the introduction of artificial
fibres gave a lighter webbing with greater elasticity and durability: 'the
result was a better belt with a longer life and much neater appearance. [Guppy,
The later, improved version was, as I recall from my own
schooldays, very comfortable to wear, since it would stretch as necessary with
a boy's movements during play - the very reason for their introduction into
games such as cricket and tennis. The only discomfort came if the metal slide
got twisted, as could happen occasionally: 'One glance was enough to reveal the
cause of the trouble,' relates Anthony Buckeridge in one of his Jennings
stories: '"Yes, I see what it is," she said. "A clear case of
twisted-belt-buckle-itis." '"Wow! That sounds bad," Jennings
exclaimed. "Shall I have to see the doctor, Matron?"
'"Oh, no, it's not serious." She straightened out
the twisted belt and slackened the adjustable buckle [that is, the metal slide]
at the back, which had ridden up over the waistband of his shorts' (According
to Jennings, London and Glasgow, 1954, 247). They were worn with both short and
long trousers; indeed, in conformity with changed times, the more recent
revision of the Jennings story alters 'shorts' to 'trousers' (According to
Jennings, revised edition, Wendover, 1986, 182-3; paperback edition, London and
Basingstoke, 1991, 196). Partly because of their comfort and partly, I suppose,
because of their often bright colours, they were very popular amongst boys
themselves: in the post-World War II Austerity era Ray Watkins regretted not
having one because of continuing rationing, but eventually obtained one with
some change from the purchase of a grey school shirt (Interview in 'Now the War
is Over', BBC2 Television, repeat 23 July 1990). Sometimes girls might even
envy the boys' possession of these distinctive items of clothing, as Dora Saint
(writing as 'Miss Read') recalls (Times Remembered, paperback edition,
Harmondsworth, 1987, 36).
Snake-Belt versus Braces
Braces (suspenders) were sometimes worn with school uniform
and both short and long trousers were provided with braces-buttons as well as
belt-loops. John Mortimer amusingly recalls his preparatory school headmaster
vacillating over the issue of braces versus the snake-belt: '... you are
round-shouldered through the wearing of braces! Unbutton your braces and cast
them from you. Each boy to acquire a dark-blue elastic belt with a
snake-buckle, to be slotted neatly into the loops provided at the top of school
shorts.' But a little later he fulminates: 'Why are you an offence to the eyes,
all tied up like parcels? I say unto you, there will be no more belts or the
wearing thereof. Abandon belts! Each boy to equip himself with a decent pair of
sturdy elastic braces!' (Clinging to the Wreckage: a Part of Life, London,
1982, paperback edition, Harmondsworth, 1983, 31-32)
In their heyday, from the 1930s through to the 1960s,
snake-belts were easily available from a large number of shops and stores and
even from market stalls which sold boyswear. Official school outfitters stocked
them in the colours of local schools, but most colour combinations - certainly
the brown and yellow of my primary school and the red and yellow of my grammar
school - were available at the other outlets, usually at less cost, although
they were inexpensive items wherever they were purchased - certainly when
compared with leather belts.
The Situation Today
The snake-belt is seen much less often these days, although
they can sometimes be found. They are sometimes even thinner, being about 1
inch (25 mm) in width. Occasionally too trousers for smaller boys will have a
sort of false version, consisting of just the two ends, sewn to the sides of
the trousers and fastening in front with the snake-buckle. The trousers have
elasticated backs and are self-supporting so that the 'belts' are decorative
rather than functional.
Aldbrugham, Alison. "Introduction", Yesterday's
Shopping: the Army and Navy Stores Catalogue, 1907, (Newton Abbot, 1969).
Cunnington, Phillis and Alan Mansfield, English Costume for
Sports and Outdoor Activities, London, 1969).
Guppy, Alice. Children's Clothes 1939-1970: The Advent of
Fashion (Poole, 1978).
Smith, Terence Paul. Terence submitted the first draft of
A Traveller's Life (paperback edition, London, 1983).
In the era before low slung jeans every boy in the land
would have had his trousers held up by these elasticated belts with traditional
metal snake fastening.
We have now had them remade in adult sizes so they are both
practical and nostalgic.
The adult belts will adjust from 22" to 42" waist
and are 1 1/8" wide
Plain and striped colourways.
Actual colours may vary slightly from the images
Made in England and sent in presentation box so an ideal
gift for the overgrown schoolboy..
In 1925, the 19-year-old artist Rex Whistler met the
52-year-old Edith Olivier at a house party in Italy. Within hours, they were
arguing spiritedly about the nature of power. Within days, Whistler had
persuaded Edith to shingle her hair and raise her skirts, embarking on a new
life as a Bright Young Person. Within weeks, this unlikely friendship had
become the central relationship in both their lives, as it would remain for the
next 20 years.
Almost immediately, they transformed each other. Whistler
was a diffident, chiselled beauty, a dazzling draftsman whose Arcadian scenes
were at odds with the artistic climate of his time. Although he had started to
move in aristocratic circles (he met Olivier through the decadent young peer
Stephen Tennant), he was awkwardly aware that his father was a builder. Olivier
encouraged his romantic vision and introduced him into society, finding him a
patron to pay the rent of a London studio.
Olivier was an energetic and original woman whose autocratic
father had prevented her from straying far beyond the family home. In her 20s,
she had briefly acquired independence by studying at Oxford. During the first
world war, she had almost inadvertently established the Women’s Land Army. But
it was only now, bereft of both father and sister, that she could realise her
talents. Encouraged by Whistler, she began to write dark, fantastical stories
set in the Wiltshire countryside she loved. Her first novel, published in 1927,
was an immediate success.
Anna Thomasson uses their friendship to tell their life
stories, following them both until their deaths in the 1940s. This doesn’t
sound immediately promising; before reading the book, it’s hard to see how a
celibate 20-year friendship could sustain our interest over the course of so
many pages. But it’s a relationship that provides a window on to a fascinating
world, and the story is narrated with elegant verve.
Part of the interest lies in the enticing cast that quickly
gathers in and around Daye House, Olivier’s picturesque Wiltshire home. There
is Diana Cooper, Diana Mitford, Ottoline Morrell, Edith Sitwell, Winston
Churchill. Most prominently, there is Siegfried Sassoon (who has a lengthy
affair with Tennant) and Cecil Beaton. If we know Olivier now, it’s because we
recognise her from Beaton’s photographs, casually louche on the lawn with a
cigarette in her hand or posed as a stately Elizabeth I at one of their many
elaborate fancy-dress parties. Like Whistler, Beaton came to rely on Olivier
for artistic and emotional advice. “I really adore her and love her more than
almost any friend I have,” he wrote in 1931, with only mild hyperbole.
But most of all, the interest – even the suspense – of
Thomasson’s account comes from the central relationship itself. Both Whistler
and Olivier were virgins when they met. More interested in love than sex, they
were dreamers who encouraged each other’s taste for elaborate fantasies.
As their friendship became more romantic, a language of
courtly love developed. This could be flirtatious: “Seeing you against that
pink pillow in bed the other day,” Whistler informed Edith, “I feel I must, in
honesty, raise your marks for seduction from five to at least eight!” They enjoyed
the frisson of physical intimacy. Sharing a suite of rooms with Whistler at a
house party, Olivier noted in her diary that her bath was “really in his
bedroom, but we are so easy with each other that this seems all right ”.
Another time, she described dancing with him at a fancy-dress party where he
removed his wig and danced with “his own shapely head” on view. “His beauty
unbelievable ... it was a dream ... it must remain a dazzling memory.”
It would be easy to dismiss them both as sublimating sexual
desire: her for him, and him for the often overtly homosexual young men he
gathered around him. Thomasson doesn’t forget the importance of sex for both of
them, but she is also alert to the possibility of other kinds of intensity. In
the process, she portrays an emotional climate subtler than our own; certainly
one in which friendships were more intense than they commonly are now, perhaps
because people were more accustomed to repressing sexual inclinations.
In the first decade of their friendship, both Whistler and
Olivier seem to have been content to live celibate lives, fulfilled by the
creative and loving closeness of their friendship. This had its costs. For her,
it could be exhausting keeping up the high spirits and jet-black hair of her
youth, and socially awkward spending so much time with a coterie of younger
men. It’s not surprising that she avoided either thinking about or meeting
Whistler’s mother. She was uneasily aware of the indignity of an evening spent
cavorting in Soho with Whistler and Beaton, pretending that she was drunk.
There was also the more painful cost of loving a man whom
she knew to be only on loan to her. This is pain that animates her first novel,
The Love-child, which tells the story of a lonely spinster who brings into
being an imaginary child called Clarissa, “the creation of the love of all her
being”, only to murder her accidentally, casting Clarissa from her mind after
she falls in love with a man. Thomasson’s reading of the novel is subtle and
convincing. She portrays Olivier as using her writing to live through the
betrayal that she, more than Whistler, knows must ensue.
The drama, cleverly marshalled, of Thomasson’s account,
comes from Olivier’s fear that Whistler will leave her, that mere friendship,
however intense, leaves you without claims. The curiousness of the relationship
leaves the reader eager to know what will transpire. And Thomasson is an
excellent guide, ready to answer the most difficult questions, but reluctant to
judge or to simplify.
In the end, sex does intrude. Whistler is almost seduced by
an older man and then falls in love with one impossibly unattainable beautiful
and aristocratic girl after another, eventually losing his virginity aged 29.
But it is war that irrevocably separates them, leading Whistler to the French
battlefield, where he writes to Olivier hoping for “the great joy” of seeing
her again. His death a few days later leaves their love intact, enabling her to
dream of his ringing the doorbell and embracing her “with great love” before
she dies of grief, unable to face “this long lonely life without him”.
• Lara Feigel is the author of The Love-charm of Bombs:
Restless Lives in the Second World War.
A candid interview in which British Vogue’s former fashion
director said she was fired from the title has been mysteriously removed from
Ever since the announcement that long-standing editor
Alexandra Shulman was to be replaced by stylist Edward Enninful, it became
clear that a new era was dawning at the glossy title. Especially as two other
departures swiftly followed: managing editor of 24 years Frances Bentley left
on the same day, and fashion director Lucinda Chambers announced that she was
to step down four months later.
But now, in an extremely open interview with Vestoj,
Chambers has said that she was fired - a decision which she said took bosses
just "three minutes" to carry out.
In an article published on the "critical thinking"
fashion website, Chambers, 57, said she had been fired six weeks ago by
Enninful without the knowledge of Shulman.
"A month and a half ago I was fired from Vogue,"
she says. “It took them three minutes to do it. I didn't leave. I was
But, British Vogue has since responded claiming that this
move was not completely unexpected, "It's usual for an incoming Editor to
make some changes to the team," the publication told The Independent.
"Any changes made are done with the full knowledge of
The interview was promptly taken down as soon as it began to
gain traction on social media - a move the site says was due to the
"sensitive nature" of the article.
But, Vestoj has since re-published it in its entirety with
the hopes that it will spark a discussion which might, in the words of
Chambers, "lead to a more empowering and useful fashion media."
Entitled, "Will I Get a Ticket?", Chambers went on
to slam some of the magazine's decisions - particularly when it came to
"The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael
Kors T-shirt is crap," she admits.
"He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I
knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway."
Then, she shed light on the employment of a fashion editor
who, according to Chambers, was employed despite being a "terrible
"In fashion you can go far if you look fantastic and
confident — no one wants to be the one to say 'but they're crap'."
But, perhaps the most revealing extract of the entire
interview came when Chambers exposed the reality of the publication she had
worked for, for 36 years.
Here, she admitted that she hadn’t "read Vogue in
years", slating the clothes as "irrelevant" and
"There are very few fashion magazines that make you
feel empowered. Most leave you totally anxiety-ridden.
"Truth be told, I haven't read Vogue in years. The
clothes are just irrelevant for most people – so ridiculously expensive.
"I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational,
but why not be both useful and aspirational? That's the kind of fashion
magazine I’d like to see."
Chambers, Fired Vogue Director, Gives Fashion Industry a Kicking
Lucinda Chambers last year. She said in an interview with
the journal Vestoj that the fashion industry could “chew you up and spit you
out.” Credit Marcy Swingle for The New York Times
PARIS — Hell hath no fury like a fashion editor fired. At
the couture shows in Paris this week, the front row was abuzz — both
conversationally and electronically — with news of an incendiary interview with
Lucinda Chambers, the former British Vogue fashion director, that was unusual
in its frank criticism of the 21st-century fashion ecosystem. Soon after its
publication, however, and amid talk of legal action, the piece was taken down,
only to sensationally resurface again less than 24 hours later.
First published on Monday in Vestoj, an annual academic
journal about fashion, the first-person account charted Ms. Chambers’s abrupt
departure from British Vogue in May, as well as the broader brutality of the
fashion business and the apparent power that heavyweight advertisers have over
The article was removed from Vestoj’s website the same day
it was published, and no reason was initially provided. But multiple screen
captures and photographs of its contents continued to be widely circulated,
testament to the fact that in the world of social media, nothing really
disappears, and to the singularity of a fashion-industry insider breaking ranks
and shedding a negative light on the internal machinations of the sector.
“A month and a half ago, I was fired from Vogue,” Ms.
Chambers told Vestoj’s founder and editor in chief, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg,
referring to her removal by Edward Enninful, who was hired to replace the
longtime editor in chief, Alexandra Shulman, in April.
“It took them three minutes to do it,” Ms. Chambers said in
the interview. “No one in the building knew it was going to happen. The
management and the editor I’ve worked with for 25 years had no idea. Nor did
H.R. Even the chairman told me he didn’t know it was going to happen. No one
knew, except the man who did it — the new editor.”
After conceding that the fashion industry could “chew you up
and spit you out,” Ms. Chambers went on to criticize some of the “crap”
magazine cover shoots that she had produced (saying the blame lay in part with
Vogue’s allegiances to major advertisers), and the mismanagement of the fashion
brand Marni, where she had once worked. She also suggested that Vogue had
become an increasingly uninspiring read.
“Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years,” she said.
“Maybe I was too close to it after working there for so long, but I never felt
I led a Vogue-y kind of life. The clothes are just irrelevant for most people —
so ridiculously expensive.”
“What magazines want today is the latest, the exclusive,”
she continued. “It’s a shame that magazines have lost the authority they once
had. They’ve stopped being useful. In fashion, we are always trying to make
people buy something they don’t need. We don’t need any more bags, shirts or
shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people” into buying.
Many industry power players in Paris were tight-lipped after
the article was published, including Mr. Enninful, who said he had “no comment”
about the interview as he sat in the front row of the Chanel show on Tuesday.
An hour later, Condé Nast, the publisher that owns the Vogue titles, released a
short statement that contradicted Ms. Chambers’ account of the end of her
“It’s usual for an incoming editor to make some changes to
the team,” the statement said. “Any changes made are done with the full
knowledge of senior management.”
Dozens of readers, meanwhile, were quick to praise Ms.
Chambers’s candor. Her profile outside the sector increased after her star turn
last year in “Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue,” a BBC documentary in
which she won legions of fans thanks to her upfront approach, artistic vision
and eccentric yet elegant fashion sense.
Julie Zerbo, of the website the Fashion Law, looked beyond
the reader reaction and to the possible legal fallout, wondering on Twitter if
Ms. Chambers might be sued:
And then at lunchtime on Tuesday, the tale took a further
twist when the article reappeared online.
“Due to the sensitive nature of this article, we took the
decision to temporarily remove it from the site, but have now republished it in
its entirety,” Ms. Aronowsky Cronberg explained in an email to The New York
“In terms of the reasons why it was removed, they are
directly related to the industry pressures which Lucinda discusses in her
interview,” she continued. “As you know, fashion magazines are rarely
independent because their existence depends on relationships with powerful
institutions and individuals, whether it’s for tickets to shows, access in
order to conduct interviews or advertising revenue.”
“We created Vestoj to be an antidote to these pressures, but
we are not always immune,” Ms. Aronowsky Cronberg added. “We hope Lucinda’s
republished interview will spark a discussion which might, in her words, lead
to a more ‘empowering and useful’ fashion media.”
Ms. Chambers could not be reached for comment.
Lucinda Chambers airing Vogue's dirty laundry?
The magazine’s long-serving former fashion director has
vented her fury in a bracingly candid online interview, claiming she was
unceremoniously sacked by the new editor
Tuesday 4 July 2017 14.22 BST Last modified on Tuesday 4
July 2017 22.00 BST
Let me see … she sounds like she could be a late-starting
lady novelist whose risqué debut is selling like hot cakes in Berkshire and
Former mistress of Prince Philip? Nope.
Current mistress of Prince Philip? No. She’s the erstwhile
fashion director of British Vogue.
Why erstwhile? She claims she was fired, after 36 years at
Vogue and 25 years as fashion director, by new editor Edward Enninful. She
reckons it took him three minutes.
That must have stung. She gave a bracingly candid interview
to niche journal Vestoj in which she managed to get a few things off her chest.
Ooh, like what? Like doing a “crap” cover with Alexa Chung
in a “stupid Michael Kors T-shirt” because “he’s a big advertiser, so I knew
why I had to”.
What else? About the industry’s inability to nurture
creative talent any more (“I’m thinking of one fashion editor in particular …
he will wrongfoot you and wrongfoot you”). About how magazines used to be useful
and are now increasingly irrelevant. How far people get on confidence rather
than ability in a world beset by insecure people who are too scared to say when
someone’s rubbish (one stylist she worked with many years ago was “just
terrible. But in fashion you can go far if you look fantastic and confident –
no one wants to be the one to say ‘but they’re crap’”).
Cor! Oh, and how she hasn’t actually read Vogue herself for
Amazing! Where can I read this stellar-sounding interview?
Well, it’s a moving story.
What? It went up on vestoj.com on Monday morning and
promptly came down that afternoon. Now it’s back online again with a note from
the editor: “Due to the sensitive nature of this article, we took the decision
to temporarily remove it from the site.”
May we infer that legal communications abounded in the
interim? You may infer whatever you wish. If cease-and-desist letters are named
accessory of the season in next month’s edition, then we’ll know.
Any other gossip? Having replaced Alexandra Shulman,
editor-in-chief of 25 years, Enninful is likely to want to shake up the title.
He pipped deputy editor Emily Sheffield, part of the magazine’s posh-girl old
guard, to the role.
Is she a posh girl? She’s Samantha Cameron’s sister.
I see. England really does have only seven families in it,
doesn’t it? At most. At most.
Do say: “They never have this trouble at Primark.”
Don’t say: “Whatever you want, if you’ve got a
non-disparagement clause in your