From The Daily Mail To WordPress

Yesterday’s storm continued throughout today, giving a prod to making a start on the last month’s ironing pile, after which I spent the afternoon reading.

When selecting the next book to embark upon from my library one of my prompts comes from what I have just finished. So it was that on discovering in “At The Jazz Band Ball” that the author Philip Oakes had worked alongside Bernard Levin in his early years I decided to open the first of my collection of the latter’s journalism.

Ever contentious, Levin has entitled the first volume ‘Taking Sides’, which he certainly does. Published by Jonathan Cape in 1979, at 40 years old my copy was due an airing. I finished reading it today.

The blurb inside the dust jacket justifiably claims That this ‘is a book rich in views no less compelling if you don’t share them than if you do; in eloquence in the service of just causes, in humour, wisdom and unfailingly vivid perception. It will find a place on the shelves of those countless numbers who have for years opened their newspapers wondering what Mr. Levin has to say to them today….’

Reader, I was among those numbers. That is why I bought the book. After so long gathering dust I rightly imagined that these reprinted pages from the newspaper columns would have been long enough forgotten to come to me as if fresh off the press. Except that much of the writing is now history, and some views remarkably prophetic.

As befits his argumentative, apparently arrogant approach, Levin was intensely disliked by many. Besides his columns in The Times and the Observer he was a theatre critic for the Sunday Times and film critic for The Guardian. Television appearances, notably the late-night satire show ‘That Was The Week That Was’, earned him public dislike sometimes escalating into violence. All I knew of him until I came across him in The Times was that he had been punched on the TV set. The Guardian’s obituary of 2004 presents a far more balance view of the man, his life, and his personality. I was sad to read that, like so many great minds – such as Iris Murdoch – this possessor of an amazingly capacious memory and grasp of such a broad range of interests ended his days with Alzheimer’s disease.

Although I have never been a reader of the New Statesman I have, unwittingly paralleled Mr Levin’s newspaper progression. He began writing for the Daily Mail; that was my parents’ source of news which I followed into my adult journey’s commuting life. I then thought The Guardian, as a more intelligent journal, more fitting to the ambitious Marine Insurance clerk I then was. With important life changes I gravitated to The Times where I discovered Bernard’s writing.

Eventually I decided that my newspaper was becoming thinner and thinner and really not much more than a compulsory route to the cryptic crossword. When my discovery of blogging superseded crossword setting and solving I gave up newspapers altogether, to be delightfully surprised at the amount of national and world news and opinions I receive gratis from my WordPress friends.

Jackie’s savoury rice made with Becky’s frozen Christmas turkey stock is a meal in itself. This evening she served it with pork spare ribs in barbecue sauce with which I drank more of the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Culinary Queen had finished her Hoegaarden while cooking.


  1. Nice to read about a literary journey. They are often circuitous, aren’t they? Also, unfamiliar with Bernard Levin. Probably not as well known as “over here.”

  2. I miss the days when ‘opinions’ came from well educated, thoughtful people and not just random rantings from the opposite types. It is amazing what we pick up from our WP global connections isn’t it – I eschewed newspapers and TV some ten years or more ago and yet somehow remain fully informed on what is important. Though I still miss the crosswords……….

      1. That makes sense to me. I found a random cryptic somewhere maybe a year or so ago and sat and looked at it for quite a while and couldn’t solve a single question – that bothered me. I used to eat those things up.

  3. Sounds like a good book – much better than the crown series!
    — and I recall when my hubs gave up the newspaper – a while back – it really is not what it used to be in the world – new days

  4. I so thoroughly enjoyed your reference to “That Was The Week That Was”. It has been decades since I remember seeing that clever show, US version with David Frost.

  5. Our Monday newspaper is two pages! I’d like to drop it, but Derek is much like my father when it comes to holding a physical paper. Wow! Jackie’s meal looks delish!

  6. I still miss the daily newspaper delivery and read through.
    I still look at the comic sections online…and do puzzles online.
    It is so very sad when anyone gets Alzheimer’s. 🙁
    A man who irons! YAY!!! Press on, Derrick, press on! 🙂 We should call you Iron Man from henceforth! 😉
    HUGS!!! 🙂

  7. As a former newspaper reporter myself, I will have to look this gentleman up and learn more about him. Since I’m from the U.S. (don’t hold that against me.. I hope), I am not familiar with him but he sounds intriguing.

  8. Your post reminds me that I used to follow several newspaper columnists on a regular basis for years. I’d forgotten about it. Now, I also stay apprised of what is happening in the world (particularly Australia) through blogs.

  9. I’d not thought of TWTWTW in ages. An American version had a two-year run, also with David Frost. It was great tv, for sure. I’ve always enjoyed newspaper columnists and essayists, although the quality’s gone downhill of late. Some of our best, like Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle, Art Buchwald, and Mike Royko, are gone now. They did wonderful things with words.

  10. The love-hate relationship we all have with newspapers … I still get our weekly Sunday Times mainly for the puzzle page and the opinion section, and purchase our local Herald along with the groceries on Mondays. Mostly the news is not worth reading.

  11. It’s good to get lost in a book on a rainy day. We still get a daily paper delivered, and my husband does his crossword every day. I enjoy reading the morning paper, but I often have already read the actual news reports online already.

  12. How interesting it must have been to read his book after so many things he opined had come true… Considering what some people I currently read and trust say, that does not bode well. Good for you for buying his book! We’d all do better supporting truth tellers – and that includes all our investigative journalists.

  13. We gave up newspapers a long time ago. They got thinner and thinner. Most of our news now comes from radio, online, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and High Country News magazines.

        1. Thank you so much for this link, Lavinia. Science has always seemed beyond me, but this writer gripped me from the start and had me reading right to the end – and I have never before read a post of this length without skimming a bit.

  14. That meal looks very appetising! I used to enjoy reading Bernard Levin’s theatre reviews around the time you mention his Taking Sides was published and am sorry to learn he went on to suffer from Altzheimer’s Disease.

    I’d agree that it does feel as if blogging has changed my opinion about aspects of people’s lives and experiences more than reading newspapers have done, certainly over the last few years. Bloggers are expressive and the format means that over time, they go into more detail than an article might. I feel increasingly bad that some of our press feels free to publish some of the things they write and that people pay to encourage them to do it. I don’t have a Facebook account and would be extremely wary of receiving news content from them, but then, perhaps that’s just me believing too much of what I read, because I’ve never experienced it first hand.

  15. I have to agree with your newspaper habits. These days I have become quite critical of what I read in the newspapers leaning more to a mixture of sources. Of course the blog world gives us first hand experience from blogger peers around the globe.

  16. Yes, it’s sad what has happened to newspapers. We stopped our subscription to the local ‘fishwrapper’ this year and it’s the first time since I was a kid (a hundred years, it seems)!that I have been without a daily paper. But, as you commented, it was so thin some days that you could see through it, almost. Info miss the obits. Always fascinating to see the variety of names and occupations. ?

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