Friday, 20 May 2022

Return of the king: Juan Carlos’ problematic Spanish homecoming


Return of the king: Juan Carlos’ problematic Spanish homecoming


The former ruler has spent years in self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi — but now he’s coming back.



May 20, 2022 4:04 am


MADRID — This weekend, things could get awkward in Spain.


The former king, Juan Carlos I, who abdicated in 2014, returned home on Thursday evening after nearly two years in self-exile in Abu Dhabi, having fled the country under a cloud of scandal.


The shelving earlier this year of investigations into his finances has cleared the way for his visit. But Juan Carlos’ return to Spain, to attend a sailing regatta in the north-western town of Sanxenxo, remains controversial, highlighting how the personal stock of the former king has plummeted, tainting his own legacy and hampering the reign of his son, King Felipe VI.


“This is someone who did a very good job, politically, and then at the end of his reign made a series of terrible personal and professional mistakes,” said Ana Romero, an author who has written several books about the Spanish monarchy. “[In Spain] he is not having to pay a legal price for what he has done, but there are things that he has to pay for morally.”


The return of Juan Carlos, 84, has been rumored since March, when the supreme court closed three probes into his finances.


One was into a $100 million payment he received in 2008 from the Saudi royal family. The investigation decided there was no evidence that the money had been a bribe linked to the awarding of a fast-train construction contract and found that regal immunity protected him from facing tax fraud charges. A second probe found he had not benefitted in recent years from an offshore fund in Jersey. The third case, related to more than €500,000 he received from a Mexican tycoon, was closed because Juan Carlos had paid €5 million to the Spanish tax authority to clear arrears.


Juan Carlos took the throne in 1975, on the death of his mentor, dictator Francisco Franco, helping usher in parliamentary democracy. His reputation was cemented in 1981 when he was seen to have acted decisively in thwarting an attempted coup d’état.


A respectful media kept its distance and his popularity remained robust for the next few decades. But revelations in 2012 that he had been on an elephant-hunting holiday in Botswana with his lover, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, as Spain was in the depths of the eurozone crisis, were tremendously damaging.


Juan Carlos abdicated two years later, but the scandals continued, culminating in his departure to Abu Dhabi in August 2020, a move instigated by his son, King Felipe VI.


“The decision by Felipe VI to send his father abroad was an attempt to put up a barrier between the decline of his father’s image and the crown as an institution,” said Pablo Simón, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University.


“But this whole plan has been a bit of a fiasco,” he added. “It looked like [Juan Carlos] was fleeing the justice system.”


Felipe, 54, is seen as a more austere figure and he has taken steps to make the royal family’s accounts more transparent. He has also distanced himself from his father, avoiding meeting with him last Sunday during an official visit to the United Arab Emirates. On Monday, however, they are due to meet in Madrid before Juan Carlos flies back to his residence in Abu Dhabi.


Felipe has not been able to prevent Juan Carlos’ personal fall from grace from eroding the crown’s image, particularly among younger voters who have no memory of the former king’s achievements. A 2021 poll found that 31 percent of those asked were in favor of the monarchy and 39 percent in favor of a republic.


This has placed the monarchy, unwittingly, in the political arena, making it yet another cause of division between left and right.


The Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) of the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has tended to put its historic republicanism to one side during the democratic era, seeing the monarchy as providing stability. But while the party continues to support the institution, it no longer defends the former head of state. Sánchez said that Juan Carlos “has to clarify all the information that we’ve been hearing about …which paints a picture of a certain kind of behavior.”


The junior partner in the coalition government, the far-left Unidas Podemos (UP), is more strident. Party spokesman Pablo Echenique said that the ex-king’s planned return shows that “he can commit crimes without facing penal consequences, that he can return to Spain and laugh at the Spanish people.”


By contrast, the conservative Popular Party (PP) has supported his decision to visit and Iván Espinosa, of the far-right Vox, said the former monarch “has nothing to hide, despite the continuous attempts by the left to single him out and falsely accuse him.”


As part of efforts to push back against the narrative of a lavish royal who had skirted the rules, the pro-monarchy Concordia Real Española association has published a report claiming he generated €62 billion for the Spanish economy during his reign.


Despite the shelving of the investigations into his finances, the legal coast is still not clear for Juan Carlos. A British court recently ruled that he cannot claim regal immunity there to avoid a possible trial brought by zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who accuses him of waging a campaign of harassment against her after their relationship ended.


But it appears unlikely that the monarchy is in jeopardy — at least in the short term. Major constitutional change would require the kind of political consensus that is rarely seen in Spain.


“The more polarized and fragmented Spanish politics is, the more difficult it will be to gather the parliamentary support to carry out such a reform,” said Simón.


JEEVES / TWEEDLAND will be back in one week.


Thursday, 19 May 2022

SAVILE ROW NEWS : Edward Sexton: Return of the wizard with the scissors



Edward Sexton: Return of the wizard with the scissors


Cindy Lawford catches up with Edward Sexton, back in business on Savile Row

There is a thrill to be had these days for suit lovers walking down the west side of Savile Row for the first time in many pandemic months. It comes at the sight of the name “Edward Sexton” above the door of number 36. He’s back, the legendary cutter that dressed everyone cool, famous and glamorous at Nutters on Savile Row. “Once [Savile Row] is in your blood, it’s in your blood,” says Sexton, sitting in his new shop and dressed immaculately as ever in suit, tie and rose-gold tie-pin. After an absence of more than 40 years, Sexton declares the street without hesitation “my birthplace”. His desire to do something new and do it impeccably well is undiminished at age 79, as is his tailoring reputation. “I love what I do,” says Sexton, who has no interest in retiring. “I have this huge passion for it. I love being in the workroom. I love a challenge.”


A working-class lad living in Elephant & Castle, Sexton first entered the workroom in 1957 when he was in his early teens. He soon found himself making riding coats for Harry Hall in the day and taking tailoring classes at Barrett Street Technical College by night. In the early 1960s, Sexton would serve an apprenticeship at Savile Row’s Kilgour, French & Stanbury, before becoming a military cutter for Welsh & Jefferies. In 1966, he arrived as the new cutter at Donaldson, Williams & Ward in Burlington Arcade. There Sexton found himself faced with an entirely conservative approach to suit construction and, by way of extreme contrast, a handsome young man working front-of-house whose personality was finding him wide favour among movers and shakers in London’s social scene. Possessed with a flair for design, Tommy Nutter shared Sexton’s disenchantment with the DW&W’s staid approach and, over afterwork pints, the two became convinced that together they should find a way to make a new kind of suit.


Thanks to the financial backing of Beatles manager Peter Brown and Cilla Black among others, Nutter, 25, and Sexton, 26, opened the doors of their tailoring house at 35a Savile Row on Valentine’s Day 1969, with a guest list that included Paul McCartney and Twiggy. From the moment their first suits were put on show that evening, the house became known for clothes with a cutting-edge style that were beautifully made – without the slightest compromise of the Row’s high standards. “All the tailors had to admit that, respect that,” recalls Sexton.


They had to admit it even though in many other ways Nutters was doing things differently, most obviously with their window displays on a street where all the other curtains were firmly down. In his book House of Nutter, Lance Richardson records Peter Sprecher’s memory of passing by Nutters’ window and becoming suddenly fixated by “this crazy suit: navy blue, pink lapels, with flared trousers in a box plaid”. Then there is the anecdote of Hardy Amies at a cocktail party pulling out his tape measure to examine the width of the lapel of Tommy Nutter’s suit. Face-to-face with the upstart, Amies then pronounced that lapel “extraordinary”. “We started afresh,” says Sexton, “and [the other tailors] could not fault our designs, even if they were much more extravagant than theirs.”


It’s worth remembering that back in 1969, when the boutiques of Carnaby Street and the King’s Road were selling all kinds of ephemera to the hip and the young, Nutter and Sexton together were conjuring up their own new possibilities, suits made to last that were unlike anything seen before in their colours, fabric combinations, trimmings – lapels and pockets often in dizzying contrast to the fabric of the main body of the suit jacket – and, most importantly, in their fit and shape. Dubbed “the wizard with the scissors” by the clientele at Nutters, Sexton incorporated his training as a tailor both of military and riding wear to create trend-setting new shapes, building on the long coat and the wide skirt of the traditional hacking jacket. Then, as now, Sexton’s suit structure is “achieved in the foundation”, Sexton says. “I don’t make suits, I build them, stage by stage.” His relish for exploring variations in contour remains undiminished. “I like strong architectural lines in my clothing,” he adds. “My cut is very unique, it’s very recognisable.”


Sexton’s creative director Dominic Sebag-Montefiore points out that this famous cut has never stood still, continuing to evolve with the master cutter’s changing tastes. To this day, Sexton is ever ready to create a new pattern for an old customer. “You’ve got to be current,” he says. The constants of Sexton’s style remain the strong shoulders and peak lapels with a high-cut armhole. “You stay with your signature lapel, your signature sleeve head,” Sexton says with well-deserved pride. “It’s all got your signature.” Sebag-Montefiore is happy to state the obvious to his boss, “You’ve always liked the peak lapel. It’s always been not on the narrow side.”


Sexton is particularly known for his double-breasted suits. According to Simon Crompton in a post for Permanent Style, “The big sweep of the bellied lapel is wonderful, particularly when married with the wide, roped shoulder and long straight edge below the waist button.” For Sexton, “You get the emphasis in the shoulder, and the hip, and everything in between the shoulder and the hip is fluid.” When asked why he remains a fan of the double-breasted despite the formality often imputed to it, Sexton is quick to say the double-breasted blazer travels easily, “You can dress it up or dress it down.” Nor does he hold to the view that those with wider waistlines should avoid it. “We can make a fat man look slimmer and we can make a skinny guy look more beefy. I like the security of double-breasted, personally.”


From the start, Nutter and Sexton’s new shapes were in part inspired by the lapels and Oxford bags of the 1930s and 1940s, often ventless jackets that were closer, sexier than the draped ones of 1950s and 1960s. In those latter two decades, Savile Row had found itself standing in stern reaction against the flamboyance of the working-class Teddy Boys, who had dared to presume they could imitate and improve upon the neo-Edwardian looks of their social superiors. By the end of Swinging Sixties, Savile Row’s conservatism was leaving more than a few of its customers bored and disenchanted, ready for something new. Cecil Beaton famously opined of the tailors: “They really should pay attention to the mods… The barriers are down and everything goes. Savile Row has got to reorganise itself and, to coin a banal phrase, get with it.”


“Men could not express themselves” with the suits then on offer, recalls Savile Row tailor Joseph Morgan of Chittleborough & Morgan, who worked under Nutter and Sexton. Morgan’s is a telling phrase, indicating that the zeitgeist of the late 1960s encouraged some to question their elders in the clothes they put on their backs even to go to the office. Tailor and designer Timothy Everest, who worked for Nutter for five years, says Nutter and Sexton presented their clients with “subversive tradition”, lifting and wholly reimagining style aspects of suit history to challenge the status quo and bring exquisite tailoring to a younger audience – be they the bankers in search of suits anything but solid grey or navy, or the more adventurous pop stars. A large number of Nutters’ early customers were gay like Nutter himself and willing, says Sexton, “to suffer to be beautiful. They were quite happy with something very close fitting, where they couldn’t move as easily.”


At Nutters, both City men and celebrities could have made snug jackets with defined waists, bottomed by widening trousers too tight in the hips to hold any pockets that were nevertheless great for dancing in. Gradually, the shoulders at Nutters became much larger and heavily roped. Tommy Nutter would rapidly sketch out the pictures in his head, confident that Sexton could bring them to fruition with a skill that impressed everywhere. As Everest remarks, “Without Edward, you could not translate Tommy’s ideas”. Both Sexton and Nutter were aiming with their suits for a kind of beautiful precision that would work uniquely for each customer. Morgan remembers that, though many hours might have been spent creating any particular suit, “They would pull it apart if it was not to their standard” and begin the work all over again. “It was their integrity to style. That was the element that fascinated me.” Cutter and coatmaker Henry Humphreys, who went to work for Nutters in 1970 and now works for Morgan, admits that he “learnt loads of things” from Sexton, who was “generous with his time and himself”. Indeed, Humphreys recalls Sexton saying to him, “Come and work for me and I’ll pay you more than anyone else.” And he was true to his word.


The most perfect model for their creations was, in Sexton’s words, the “very handsome” Nutter himself, widely seen on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1970s as one of the world’s best-dressed men. All those celebrities who flocked to 35a expected that Sexton and Nutter could make them stand out as their grandest selves, with suits more individualistic than they had ever dreamed possible. Two top highlights must include (as a “pure coincidence”, claims Richardson) McCartney, Lennon and Ringo Starr all wearing Nutters for their famous walk across Abbey Road in 1969; and Mick Jagger in an eau-de-nil suit for his 1971 wedding to Bianca, who herself became a regular customer. Justin de Villeneuve and his girlfriend Twiggy swaggered in the suits, as did Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Peter Sellars, Lionel Bart, David Hockney, Leonore Annenberg, Tommy Tune, Nancy Reagan and the Duke of Bedford. Many of the most daring were worn by Elton John, who would buy twenty suits at a time.


By the early 1980s, Sexton had decided to work under his own name on the Row, and in 1990 he left the Row to work in Knightsbridge, where he still makes his bespoke suits today. The celebrities have never stopped coming, with Annie Lennox and David Gray both wearing his suits for their 2009 Full Steam video; Mark Ronson in a white double-breasted for his 2011 wedding; and that same year Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Yasmin Le Bon and Eva Herzigova all decking out in his suits as they mimicked a rock band for the Duran Duran video, Girl Panic. Naomi was in the centre in flaming red. Well worth an internet search is Harry Styles in a pink Sexton suit performing on the Today show in 2017. Sexton, however, cannot afford to be awestruck. “I’ve personally never been impressed with celebrities,” he says. “You have a job to do with them, same as anyone else.”


Perhaps some of the greatest compliments have come Sexton’s way when top fashion designers and tailors have openly taken his ideas. For his Purple Label, Ralph Lauren adopted the ventless jacket that Nutters made popular and that Sexton is still fond of making. Tom Ford, Ozwald Boateng and Richard James have all been inspired by him. He has been asked to create ready-to-wear lines for Hardy Amies, Chester Barrie and Bill Blass. Rick Owens and Stella McCartney (whose mother Linda Sexton dressed for years) have both turned to him for advice, with McCartney so pleased by his tutelage that she got him to design for Chloé when she became its creative director. “She went to Chloé and Chloé came to me,” Sexton says. Chloé’s look was all soft and flowing, so at first the brand “couldn’t identify with what we did”, that is, structured tailoring for women, a process which Sexton then translated into factory production. Many tailors “tend to make [women] look like stormtroopers”, Everest notes, while Sexton is without doubt “one of the best women’s cutters in the world”.


The wizard with the scissors is very pleased that, having designed clothes for so many other fashion brands, he can now offer his own ready-to-wear line at his latest Savile Row premises, including knitwear and silk evening shirts. Yet his suits will always be the main attraction. “Our response to Covid and everyone wearing athleisure is to do bold, strong suits,” Sebag-Montefiore says, “because the people who are going to be buying a suit this year want a real suit.” Also available at the shop are rare 1970s pictures of Tommy Nutter, models and celebrities, taken by his brother, photographer David Nutter. So much history travels with Sexton’s name, valuable history. Morgan speaks for the entire Row when he says, “It’s great to have him back.”


Cindy Lawford gives tours of Savile Row, Jermyn Street and other menswear shops. Visit to find out more.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

The Reader: Pause in rents will be smart for Savile Row


The Reader: Pause in rents will be smart for Savile Row

Savile Row plea: Richard Anderson

05 May 2020


Covid-19 is an unprecedented challenge for our industry. We shut our shop in March and had our tailors convert living rooms, and spare bedrooms into workshops where they could continue to produce garments.


The efforts of my team mean we are still able to fulfil orders from loyal customers. The furlough scheme has been crucial to us not having to make redundancies. We are lobbying our landlords hard for a rent-free period which will be paramount to us being able to resume trading. When we can reopen it will be a period of challenging change: how do we practise social distancing in a hands-on environment or manage numbers of customers in the shop? We will meet these issues head-on and come out stronger on the Row.

Richard Anderson, Savile Row tailor


Editor's reply

Dear Richard

 It is hard to think of a sector that better embodies the values of quality personal service than Savile Row, a world renowned address for centuries. But traditional methods — lengthy measuring sessions and cutters in crowded basement workshops — are going to have to change. Some of the charm and intimacy of a Savile Row fitting will inevitably be lost. For now at least. But The Row — with the support of landlords and other stakeholders — must and will come through.

Jonathan Prynn, Consumer Business Editor


During furlough, as a not-forprofit charitable social enterprise operating leisure and library services in 20 London boroughs, we have no money coming in. GLL can’t afford to pay the top-up from 80 per cent to 100 per cent of pay for our 12,000 staff. We are asking all our local authority partners to do as our partners in Greenwich have done, and make good all pay packets up to 100 per cent. This will ensure the sustainability of our staff-owned trust and our contribution to public health when we can fully open again.

Mark Sesnan, CEO, GLL ​

Friday, 6 May 2022

MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS Trailer (2022) Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

July 15, 2022

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is an upcoming historical comedy-drama film directed and produced by Anthony Fabian, from a screenplay by Fabian, Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson, and Olivia Hetreed. It is based upon the novel Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico. It stars Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Ellen Thomas, Rose Williams, and Jason Isaacs.

Set in 1950s London, a widowed cleaning lady becomes obsessed with a couture Dior dress and embarks on an adventure to Paris.

In October 2020, it was announced Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista and Lucas Bravo joined the cast of the film, with Anthony Fabian directing and producing the film, from a screenplay he co-wrote alongside Caroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson and Olivia Hetreed, based upon the novel Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico, with Manville set to executive produce.


Principal photography began in October 2020.



In March 2021, Focus Features acquired worldwide distribution rights to the film for around $15 million and will distribute the film in the United States, while parent company Universal Pictures will distribute internationally.[4] It is scheduled to be released theatrically on July 15, 2022, in the United States.It was originally scheduled to be released on May 6.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

The Art of Menswear: V&A's first male fashion exhibition

V&A celebrates the art of menswear, past and present


Celebrating the history of masculine attire is the subject of a current exhibition at the V&A museum. It looks at how menswear has changed over the centuries. Called The Art of Menswear, it is the first major V&A exhibition to celebrate the power, artistry and diversity of masculine attire and appearance. The show traces how menswear has been fashioned and refashioned over the centuries, and how designers, tailors and artists have constructed and performed masculinity.


The exhibition showcases three iconic gowns – worn by Billy Porter, Harry Styles and Bimini Bon Boulash – alongside a specially commissioned, monumental film by Quentin Jones with Cadence Films. The exhibition presents around 100 looks and 100 artworks, displayed thematically across three galleries. Contemporary looks by legendary designers and rising stars are displayed alongside historical treasures from the V&A’s collections and landmark loans: classical sculptures, Renaissance paintings, iconic photographs, and powerful film and performance. The exhibition brings together historical and contemporary looks with art that reveals how masculinity has been performed.


 In the 20th century an abundance of mass-produced suits bred creativity as Mods, Teddy Boys and all manner of subcultures looked to define their styles through tailoring, explored in the exhibition through garments and photography. A section on leather shows how designers like Tom Ford for Gucci, Hedi Slimane for Dior and Donatella Versace took their interest in leather to a new place, whilst a series of frock coats from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day includes examples by Prada, Alexander McQueen and Raf Simons. Redressed also includes paintings as well as extensive photography showing changing styles and attitudes, from Oscar Wilde, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton to The Beatles and Sam Smith.


Tickets on sale at


Monday, 2 May 2022


 Jack Rafferty

Julian Fellowes

The Downton Abbey creator tells Jack about the franchise's second film and whether we can expect a third instalment.

Release date:29 April 2022

Sunday, 1 May 2022

ANNA: The Biography, by Amy Odell / Is Anna Wintour Really a Tyrant, or Something Else Entirely?


As a child, Anna Wintour was a tomboy with no apparent interest in clothing but, seduced by the miniskirts and bob haircuts of swinging 1960s London, she grew into a fashion-obsessed teenager. Her father, the influential editor of the Evening Standard, loomed large in her life, and once he decided she should become editor in chief of Vogue, she never looked back.


Impatient to start her career, she left high school and got a job at a fashionable boutique in London - an experience that would be the first of many defeats. Undeterred, she found work in the competitive world of magazines, eventually moving to New York. Before long, Anna's journey to Vogue became a battle to ascend, no matter who or what stood in her way. Once she was crowned editor in chief - in one of the stormiest transitions in fashion magazine history - she continued the fight to retain her enviable position, ultimately rising to dominate all of Condé Nast.


Based on extensive interviews with Anna Wintour's closest friends and collaborators, including some of the biggest names in fashion, journalist Amy Odell has crafted the most revealing portrait of Wintour ever published. Weaving Anna's personal story into a larger narrative about the hierarchical dynamics of the fashion industry and the complex world of Condé Nast, Anna charts the relentless ambition of the woman who would become an icon



Is Anna Wintour Really a Tyrant, or Something Else Entirely?


It depends on whom you ask.


Credit...Andrew Kelly/Reuters


By Willy Staley

April 30, 2022

ANNA: The Biography, by Amy Odell


In the very first pages of “Anna,” a semi-authorized biography of the Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the protagonist cries. It is Nov. 9, 2016, the morning after her erstwhile pal Donald J. Trump was elected to the presidency, and Wintour is speaking at a hastily arranged all-staff meeting. In the course of inveighing against a Women’s Wear Daily article that accused her of going too far in her support for Hillary Clinton, she cracks. This sort of peek into the soul that inhabits the iconic bob and sunglasses is what the book promises. On the cover, Wintour smirks from behind her armor, her arms crossed defiantly, as if challenging the reader to pierce the veil. The author, Amy Odell, tries valiantly.


The book is the product of over 250 interviews and exhaustive archival research: into the letters of Wintour’s father, the Fleet Street editor Charles Wintour; into just about every fashion spread Anna put together over the course of her lengthy career, including those at the obscure Viva, a Penthouse-owned skin mag for ladies that Wintour attempted to clean up in the late ’70s. Odell even turns up a spread from a 1969 issue of a fashion magazine published by a young Richard Branson, in which Wintour, misidentified as “Anna Winter,” models the “Swinging London” styles of the day: a minidress, a trouser suit and a midriff-exposing triangle top. There are about 80 pages of footnotes, bringing the biography to a page count of nearly 450 — long, in one sense, but also about half the size of Vogue’s biggest-ever September issue.


Odell’s extensive reporting dredges up a wealth of delightful details: the time Wintour scandalized her boss by featuring a $9,000 goatskin trunk in New York magazine, where she also became known for throwing her pennies in the garbage; that Andy Warhol considered her a “terrible dresser”; that she would often bump into people while rounding corners at the Vogue offices because, “being a Brit, she used the other lane”; that after she went on a lunch date with Bill Gates, she told a colleague “how attractive she thought he was”; that “she once asked her photo department to retouch the fat around a baby’s neck.”


“Anna” is a biography with naturally completist goals, so these details are scattered across a sprawling work that sometimes, well, sprawls. And because fashion prefers the high-bred and European, names spill forth as if from a Pynchon novel: Francine du Plessix Gray, Lisa Love, Rochelle Udell, Min Hogg, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, Peggy Northrop and Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis, who descends from people who actually do feature prominently in “The Crying of Lot 49.”


But Odell rarely achieves sufficient altitude to situate Wintour in the flow of history — to fill in the background and the floor underneath her Manolo Blahnik shoes. Our subject does this, and our subject does that, but I wished at times that the focus on her would loosen just a bit, because Odell’s insights into how fashion magazines work (or worked) are fascinating when they arrive. (For example, sometimes editors will deliberately misattribute makeup that was used in a fashion spread to a dedicated advertiser, to keep them happy.) You’ll walk away knowing every step — and misstep — in Wintour’s famous ascent to the heights of magazinedom, but without a working theory of the case, no conceptual framework to pack it all into and remember it by.


One striking element of the reporting on the early stages of Wintour’s career — as a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and a mostly forgotten magazine called Savvy — is how those who doubted or even fired her when she was younger later scrambled to deny it. And at times, the profound pull of her power seems to distort Odell’s efforts. I found myself underlining the insane qualifications that entered the record on Wintour’s behalf. Her former creative director Grace Coddington denies ever having quipped that André Leon Talley, the late Vogue editor at large who helped Wintour pick outfits, was “the only person who’s seen her in her underwear.” (Obviously a joke; Odell turns up a rather impressive dating history.) A former assistant says her job was so exhausting she would often lie prone on the floor when Wintour was at lunch, but adds, “It must have been a thousand times worse for Anna”; another admits that she “would also be annoyed if her coffee was late.” And yet another former colleague rebuts the claim Wintour has no sense of humor: “I know that is not true. She laughs and everything.” Wintour’s landscape architect says that a set of Times photos of the gardens at her compound on Long Island made it look too disheveled, when in fact that level of scruff actually requires constant maintenance. OK! Whatever! You almost want to splash cold water on these people’s faces.


Fashion people are different, of course; they all must know on some level that their power is both arbitrary and temporary — unless you’re Wintour — so both fealty and cruelty become necessary tools of the trade, to maintain order. They’re like knights or samurai in that way. But Odell doesn’t seem to have her mind made up about Wintour: Is she a cold apparatchik of this harsh industry, or an exacting, driven and visionary boss who is subject to sexist double standards? The text leans toward the latter interpretation, but includes anecdotes that provide grist for the former, and together these forces obscure as much as they reveal.


The resulting portrait is vexingly quantum: one moment packed with fantastic morsels of gossip, and at others strikingly obsequious. Whether Wintour really is a tyrant or something else entirely seems to depend on whom you ask — and Odell asked a lot of people. Well, you could probably say the same of a lot of editors. Even normal people, too.


Friday, 29 April 2022

Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper


Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK Hardcover – 28 April 2022

by Simon Kuper


'A searing onslaught on the smirking Oxford insinuation that politics is all just a game. It isn't. It matters' Matthew Parris


Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Dominic Cummings, Daniel Hannan, Jacob Rees-Mogg: Whitehall is swarming with old Oxonians. They debated each other in tutorials, ran against each other in student elections, and attended the same balls and black tie dinners.


They aren't just colleagues - they are peers, rivals, friends. And, when they walked out of the world of student debates onto the national stage, they brought their university politics with them.


Eleven of the fifteen postwar British prime ministers went to Oxford. In Chums, Simon Kuper traces how the rarefied and privileged atmosphere of this narrowest of talent pools - and the friendships and worldviews it created - shaped modern Britain.


A damning look at the university clique-turned-Commons majority that will blow the doors of Westminster wide open and change the way you look at our democracy forever.


The long read

‘A nursery of the Commons’: how the Oxford Union created today’s ruling political class


At the Oxford university debating society in the 80s, a generation of aspiring politicians honed the art of winning using jokes, rather than facts


by Simon Kuper

Tue 19 Apr 2022 06.00 BST


When I arrived at Oxford in 1988 to study history and German, it was still a very British and quite amateurish university, shot through with sexual harassment, dilettantism and sherry. Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and the much less prominent David Cameron had graduated just before I arrived, but from my messy desk at the student newspaper Cherwell, I covered a new generation of future politicians. You couldn’t miss Jacob Rees-Mogg, the only undergraduate who went around in a double-breasted suit, or Dan Hannan who, at the age of 19, founded a popular Eurosceptic movement called the Oxford Campaign for an Independent Britain, which, with hindsight, looks like the intellectual genesis of Brexit. Cherwell was a poor imitation of Private Eye – inaccurate, gnomic and badly written in the trademark Oxford tone of relentless irony, with jokes incomprehensible to outsiders, but it turns out that we weren’t just lampooning inconsequential teenage blowhards. Though we didn’t realise it, we were witnessing British power in the making.


Probably the main reason Oxford has produced so many prime ministers is the Oxford Union debating society. Founded in 1823, based in a courtyard behind the Cornmarket shopping street, the union when I encountered it was a kind of children’s House of Commons. Like its London model, it resembled a gentlemen’s club complete with reading rooms, writing room and bar, and, across the garden, Europe’s largest purpose-built debating chamber.


The union was one of those Oxford institutions that can flatter middle-class teenagers such as William Hague and Theresa May into feeling posh. Union officers wore white tie, speakers black tie, and everyone called one another “honourable member”. The walls were lined with busts of former prime ministers who had been union men. Nineteen-year-olds debated visiting 60-year-old cabinet ministers, and tried to loll on the frontbenches just like them. Christopher Hollis, in his 1965 book on the union, called the place “a parody of the parliament of 1864 rather than that of 1964”.


It hadn’t changed much by the 1980s. I never became a member, but I sometimes got press tickets to debates, and I remember a young Benjamin Netanyahu dispatching hecklers, and, on the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk, former prime minister Ted Heath evoking Oxford in 1940 when German invasion loomed. Heath had been elected union president in November 1938 after accusing Neville Chamberlain of “turning all four cheeks to Hitler at once”.


Another attraction of the union was the bar, which – almost miraculously in 80s Britain – stayed open into the early morning after debates, until the deferential local police finally intervened. By the mid 80s, the union also had a comedy club in its Jazz Cellar, where an undergraduate comedian named Armando Iannucci was learning the art of mocking politicians.


From the beginning, the union chamber had functioned as a self-conscious nursery of the Commons, dominated by Etonians. In 1831, William Gladstone had made such a powerful anti-reform speech at the union that a friend from Eton alerted his father, the Duke of Newcastle, who offered the 22-year-old prodigy one of the parliamentary pocket boroughs in his gift. In 1853, Edward Bradley watched “beardless gentlemen … juggle the same tricks of rhetoric as their fathers were doing in certain other debates in a certain other House”.


The union’s debating rules were modelled on those of the Commons. Opposing speakers sat facing each other in adversarial formation, and there was the same “telling” of ayes and noes. But unlike the Commons, the union had no real power. Almost the only thing the union president could actually do was stage debates. Naturally, then, it encouraged a focus on rhetoric over policy. The institution perfected the articulacy that enabled aspiring politicians, barristers and columnists to argue any case, whether they believed it or not. In the union, a speaker might prepare one side of a debate, and then on the day suddenly have to switch to the other side to replace an opponent who had dropped out. I suspect it was this rhetorical tradition that prompted Louis MacNeice to write, in 1939:


… I hasten to explain

That having once been to the University of Oxford

You can never really again

Believe anything that anyone says and that of course is an asset

In a world like ours


At speakers’ dinners, 20-year-old union “hacks” – the name given to union politicians – mingled with political power brokers up from London. On one of Churchill’s visits to the union, he remarked to a student (who happened to be the future Tory minister Quintin Hogg): “If you can speak in this country, you can do anything.”


The union was a reason for politically inclined students, especially Tory public schoolboys, to choose Oxford over Cambridge. At Oxford, the union’s ceaseless debates and election campaigns kept the university buzzing with politics. The union elected a president, secretary, treasurer and librarian every eight-week term. The anthropologist Fiona Graham, in her 2005 book Playing at Politics: An Ethnography of the Oxford Union, described some students as “virtually professional politicians, complete with support staff and intricate election strategies and meetings”.


Nearly all campaigning for votes was supposedly banned under the union’s own rule 33. There were occasional attempts to enforce the rule, through tribunals featuring London lawyers, but candidates almost always flouted it.


Union politicians – instantly recognisable because they were the only students who wore suits – were forever traipsing around the colleges tapping up ordinary students with the phrase, “May I count on your vote?” Typically, though, only a few hundred people, many of them union insiders, bothered to cast theirs.


Allied candidates organised themselves into “slates”, the union version of parties but with the ideology usually left out. The slates were illegal, semi-secret, mostly hidden from the electorate, and essential to the whole enterprise. Entirely against the rules, candidates would campaign for their slates: “Vote for me as treasurer, for him as secretary and for her as president.” In other words, cheating was built into the system.


A union career was good practice for Westminster. You learned when an ostensible ally was lying to your face, or when you should be lying to his; when it was safe to break a rule, and when it wasn’t. Michael Heseltine, who had occupied the president’s chair – which sat on a raised dais like a throne – called it “the first step to being prime minister”. Once you had ascended the union, Downing Street felt within your grasp.


Like his role model Churchill, Boris Johnson spent years mastering the ancient craft of public speaking. Eton had offered unmatched opportunities to practise. Johnson ran the school’s Debating Society, and by the time he left was so well-versed in traditional speechmaking that he could perform it as parody. His sister Rachel says: “Eton Debating Society, Polsoc [Eton’s Political Society] all those places honed your oratorical abilities at a young age. They were given a huge headstart, these guys. You’d get incredible heavy-hitters going to address PolSoc and talking to the boys. It’s like playing tennis – you can’t pick up a tennis racket and go and walk on Centre Court and expect to beat Roger Federer. So much of all these things are practice. You learn what lands, and you learn what doesn’t.”


Johnson learned at school to defeat opponents whose arguments were better simply by ignoring their arguments. He discovered how to win elections and debates not by boring the audience with detail, but with carefully timed jokes, calculated lowerings of voice, and ad hominem jibes.


He went up to Oxford in 1983 as a vessel of focused ambition. Ironic about everything else, he was serious about himself. Within his peer group of public schoolboys, he felt like a poor man in a hurry. He started university with three aims, writes Sonia Purnell in Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition: to get a first-class degree, to find a wife (his parents met at Oxford), and to become union president. At university he was always “thinking two decades ahead”, says his Oxford friend Lloyd Evans.


Whereas most students arrived in Oxford barely knowing the union existed, Johnson possessed the savvy of his class: his father had arrived at Oxford in 1959 intending to become union president. Stanley Johnson had failed, but his son was a star. Eton encourages boys to develop their individuality, or at least craft an individual brand, and nobody had done this more fully than Boris Johnson. Simon Veksner, who followed him from their house at Eton to the union, recalls: “Boris’s charisma even then was off the charts, you couldn’t measure it: so funny, warm, charming, self-deprecating. You put on a funny act, based on the Beano and PG Wodehouse. It works, and then that is who you are.”


Johnson became the character he played. He turned self-parody into a form of self-promotion. Like many British displays of eccentricity, his shambolic hair and dress were class statements. Much like Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bear in Brideshead Revisited, they said: my privileged status is so secure that I am free to defy norms.


Johnson became an “Oxford character”, one of the few undergraduates known beyond his immediate circle. He already possessed the political asset of being all too easy to write about. His girlfriend (later wife) Allegra Mostyn-Owen introduced him to the journalist Tina Brown, who was visiting Oxford to write about the death from a heroin overdose of the upper-class socialite Olivia Channon. Brown reports being traduced by Johnson, who supposedly ghosted an inaccurate attack on her in the Telegraph, under Mostyn-Owen’s byline. Brown claims to have recorded in her contemporaneous diary: “Boris Johnson is an epic shit. I hope he ends badly.”


Toby Young remembers the first time he saw Johnson speak at the union, in October 1983: “The motion was deadly serious – This House Would Reintroduce Capital Punishment – yet almost everything that came out of his mouth provoked gales of laughter. This was no ordinary undergraduate proposing a motion, but a music hall veteran performing a well-rehearsed comic routine. His lack of preparedness seemed less like evidence of his own shortcomings as a debater and more a way of sending up all the other speakers, as well as the pomposity of the proceedings.”


Young, who had come up to Oxford with his head full of Brideshead Revisited (the TV version), admits, “I was completely swept up by the Boris cult.” One young debating hopeful of the day was Frank Luntz, the future American pollster who has become known as a master of political language. (A self-proclaimed “word guy”, Luntz invented the phrase “climate change” for the George W Bush administration so as to make “global warming” seem innocuous – something he now says he regrets.)


He recalls: “Boris was brilliant. He bumbles through the details, but God does he know the substance. I had never met anyone like him, and I still haven’t. Boris gave a speech on the Middle East – it’s the best Middle East speech to this day I’ve ever heard, because he talked about it in terms of a playground, and kids attacking the little kid on the playground. Boris created a brilliant metaphor and then made the argument around that.”


Johnson also benefited from the quality of debating competition, says Luntz: “I’ve never seen a class of more talented people than that class of 1984–86 at the Oxford Union.” Luntz singles out Nick Robinson, Simon Stevens and Michael Gove. He told me: “Any one of those three, when they rose [in a debate] to intervene, the entire chamber shut up, there wasn’t a sound, because everyone knew that when they were recognised, the [previous speaker] was dead, because they were so incisive. Just bring in the ambulance and take out the body, because the three of them could cut you up and show you your heart before you collapsed.”


Anthony Gardner, another American contemporary of Johnson’s, later US ambassador to the EU, was less impressed: “Boris was an accomplished performer in the Oxford Union where a premium was placed on rapier wit rather than any fidelity to the facts. It was a perfect training ground for those planning to be professional amateurs. I recall how many poor American students were skewered during debates when they rather ploddingly read out statistics; albeit accurate and often relevant in their argumentation, they would be jeered by the crowds with cries of ‘boring’ or ‘facts’!”


The undergraduate Johnson quickly became king of all he surveyed. In 1984, a sixth-former named Damian Furniss came to Johnson’s college, Balliol, for his entrance interview. “I was a rural working-class kid with a stammer from a state school which hadn’t prepared me for the experience,” Furniss would recall in 2019.


“My session with the dons was scheduled for first thing after breakfast, meaning I was staying the night and had an evening to kill in the college bar. Johnson was propping up the bar with his coterie of acolytes whose only apparent role in life was to laugh at his jokes. Three years older than me … you’d have expected him to play the ambassador role, welcoming an aspiring member of his college … Instead, his piss-taking was brutal. In the course of the pint I felt obliged to finish he mocked my speech impediment, my accent, my school, my dress sense, my haircut, my background, my father’s work as farm worker and garage proprietor, and my prospects in the scholarship interview I was there for. His only motivation was to amuse his posh boy mates.”


At around the time of this encounter, Johnson was running for union president against the grammar-schoolboy Neil Sherlock. The election dramatised Oxford’s class struggle: toff versus “stain”. Sherlock, later a partner at KPMG and PwC, and briefly a special adviser to the Lib Dem deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, was the first in his family to attend university.


He recalls: “Boris Mark 1 was a very conventional Tory, clearly on the right, and had what I would term an Old Etonian entitlement view: ‘I should get the top job because I’m standing for the top job.’ He didn’t have a good sense of what he was going to do with it.”


Mostyn-Owens invited Sherlock to tea and asked him not to stand against “my Boris”. Undeterred, Sherlock campaigned on a platform of “meritocrat versus toff, competence versus incompetence”. Johnson mobilised his public-school networks, but even the 150 or so Etonians up at Oxford at the time proved too small a political base in the new mass union.


Johnson’s candidacy suffered from his Toryism. Conservatives may have been the largest faction within the union, but they were a minority in the university as a whole. Most Oxford dons of the time were anti-Thatcher, too. Denying her an honorary degree in 1985 to protest her cuts to education and research was the university’s seminal political statement of the decade. “Why should we feed the hand that bites us?” asked one don.


In the union election, Sherlock beat Johnson, and came away underwhelmed by his opponent: “The rhetoric, the personality, the wit were rather randomly deployed, beyond getting a laugh.” Sherlock expected the Oxford University Conservative Association’s president Nick Robinson to become the political star, and Johnson to become a “rather good journalist”. Instead, Robinson went on to present the BBC’s Today programme (where in October 2021 he told a verbose Johnson, “Prime minister, stop talking)”.


Johnson’s defeat to Sherlock wounded him, and he learned from it. “It was, quite likely, the making of him as a politician,” writes Purnell. “It taught him the unassailable truth that no one can truly succeed in politics if he relies entirely on his own cadre.”


But Etonians tend to get second chances, and a year after his humiliation, he ran for president again. He had absorbed another truth: that personality could trump politics. The second time around, he disguised his Toryism by presenting himself as an unthreatening funny man – “centrist, social democrat, warm and cuddly,” sums up Sherlock. He even managed to forge an alliance with a union hack from Ruskin College, rallying its student body of mostly adult working-class trade unionists behind his slate. Cherwell’s diarist mock-praised “Balliol’s blond bombshell” as “the unstoppable force for socialist [sic] in the Palace of the People debating society (the union to you) … Who can stop our Old Etonian Leninist from stamping his personal hammer and sickle all over the union?” Thrown in among leftists and liberals, Johnson flourished by spoofing himself. “He got away with being a Tory by being funny,” says his sister Rachel. And why not? Since the union president couldn’t make policy even about students’ lives, and Johnson wasn’t very interested in policy anyway, it was all just a power game. Johnson’s second presidential campaign was more competent. Luntz – earning his first ever consulting fee, of £180 – conducted a poll for Johnson in which, as Luntz recalls, almost all the questions were about students’ sexual habits.


He says now: “My mother was so embarrassed because it made the New York Times. She said, ‘How dare you ask people those questions?’” But in fact, the sex was just a cover, says Luntz: “I knew it would be so controversial that no one would think, ‘Actually this was a poll done for a political campaign’.” He slipped in two questions about the union that were intended to identify which candidate Johnson should strike a deal with about trading second-preference votes.


In this second campaign, Johnson also worked his charm beyond his base. Gove, a fresher in 1985, told Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson: “The first time I saw him was in the union bar … He seemed like a kindly, Oxford character, but he was really there like a great basking shark waiting for freshers to swim towards him.” Gove, who campaigned for him, admits: “I was Boris’s stooge.” And then, using almost the same phrase as Toby Young: “I became a votary of the Boris cult.”


With the votaries assuming their natural places around him, Johnson won the presidency. His defeated opponent Mark Carnegie later reflected with the much-quoted: “Sure he’s engaging, but this guy is an absolute fucking killer.”


Johnson’s gift turned out to be for winning office, not doing anything with it. He didn’t make much of his presidency, recalls Tim Hames, a union politician of the time: “The thing was a shambles. He couldn’t organise a term card to save his life. He didn’t have the sort of support mechanism that he realised in later life that he required.”


Once elected, Johnson also dropped his centrist disguise. When Balliol’s Master Anthony Kenny was contacted by a Social Democratic party MP who needed an intern, Kenny replied: “I’ve just the man for you. Bright and witty and with suitable political views. He’s just finished being president of the union, and his name is Boris Johnson.” But when Kenny told Johnson about the job, he laughed: “Master, don’t you know I am a dyed-in-the-wool Tory?”


After graduation, Johnson wrote a telling essay on Oxford politics for his sister’s book The Oxford Myth. He starts, characteristically, by stating the case against the union: “Nothing but a massage-parlour for the egos of the assorted twits, twerps, toffs and misfits that inhabit it … To many undergraduates, the union niffs of the purest, most naked politics, stripped of all issues except personality and ambition … Ordinary punters are frequently discouraged from voting by this thought: are they doing anything else but fattening the CVs of those who get elected?”


His essay tackles the great question: how to set about becoming the next prime minister? Johnson advises student politicians to assemble “a disciplined and deluded collection of stooges” to get out the vote. “Lonely girls from the women’s colleges, very often scientists” were particularly useful. Johnson added: “The tragedy of the stooge is that … he wants so much to believe that his relationship with the candidate is special that he shuts out the truth. The terrible art of the candidate is to coddle the self-deception of the stooge.”


Johnson would display that art throughout his political career, much of which would be accompanied by stooges he picked up at Oxford – or by his Eton-and-Oxford Union successor Rees-Mogg. Scanning Cherwell’s diary of 15 November 1985, you find much of Britain’s right wing of the 2020s already in place. Beside the story about the “Old Etonian Leninist” Johnson, another item, headed Who Thinks They’re Who, mocks Johnson’s girlfriend Mostyn-Owen and Young, “Oxford’s answer to the gutter press”. Young has gone on to become a leading voice on the Tory right, most recently campaigning against lockdowns. And the same page introduces readers to an 18-year-old Aberdonian politico named Michael Gove, already gaining fame at Oxford barely a month after his arrival. “Michael conceals his rabidly reactionary political views under a Jane Austen cleric-like exterior,” writes the diarist, who then swerves into uncharacteristic generosity: “The worst thing about this precocious pin-up is that he is, in fact, disgustingly unambitious and talented: watch this space for stories of eventual corruption …”



Gove grew into a recognisable Oxford character in outsized glasses, speaking with an exaggerated oratorical air even in daily life. When the future Guardian journalist Luke Harding arrived at Oxford in 1987, Gove led his freshers’ tour of the union. “He was basically the same [as in 2021],” recalls Harding. “He had this preternatural self-confidence, this faux-courtly manner. He seemed somewhat parodic, someone who wasn’t going to flourish in the real world.” Yet he has gone on to become the Jeeves to Johnson’s Wooster.


Rees-Mogg wasn’t ancestrally posh. Instead, he “adopted the persona of the institutions he attended”, diagnoses his contemporary Owen Matthews, who believes that this began as a defence mechanism for a thin, bookish child. Arriving at Oxford in 1988, he instantly became an unmissable sight, a rail-thin teenager promenading along Broad Street dressed like a Victorian vicar, in a double-breasted suit with an umbrella. In that time and place, it was about the most unconventional outfit imaginable.


Three-plus decades later, Rees-Mogg is unchanged. Like Johnson and Gove, he has even kept the hairstyle of his Oxford days. When I asked him about his student suit, he said: “Funnily enough, I’m probably wearing exactly the same sort of suit sitting here talking to you now.”


The Tory public schoolboys arrived at Oxford almost fully formed. School had given them the confidence, articulacy and knowhow to bestride the university. They had already constructed cartoon personal brands for themselves, which gave them instant recognition at Oxford.


They didn’t spend university trying on new accents and personas; they already knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. They were climbing the greasy pole before most students had even located it.


This is an edited extract from Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper, published by Profile on 28 April.