Ricky Gervais is an achingly conventional Millennial posing as a naughty maverick

ust how edgy and dangerous is Ricky Gervais? There is no one more edgy and dangerous, we learn from no less an authority than one R. Gervais. He keeps reminding you of this at intervals in his latest stand-up special, for which he was reputedly paid $20 million (to go with the other $20 million Netflix paid him for its predecessor). Every few sketches, he’ll announce to his live audience that this one was so offensive there’s just no way Netflix is going to broadcast it. But Netflix has done just that – and yet, quite incredibly, neither it nor Gervais has been cancelled. Funny that.

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How to Be a Man

Winston Churchill aged 25 (Photo: Alamy)

The river of death has brimmed his banks
And England’s far and Honour’s a name
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks
‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!’

Even as long ago as the First World War, men bitterly mocked the tritely jingo-istic sentiment of Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem ‘Vitaï Lampada’. So it wouldn’t remotely surprise me if it turned out that I was the last chap on earth who still finds it an inspiration.

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Netflix’s Messiah is a great concept undermined by implausible politics

Plus: Sky’s latest bingewatch Cobra also suffers from trying to advance an unbelievable narrative.

Intense, charismatic and wholly plausible: Mehdi Dehbi as Jesus in Messiah.

Sky’s latest bingewatch potboiler Cobra can’t quite make up its mind whether it wants to be an arch, knowing House of Cards-meets-The Thick Of It satire about parliamentary intrigue. Or a full-on post-apocalyptic thriller in the manner of Survivors or The Walking Dead. It ends up succeeding in neither.

The premise is that a powerful solar flare is heading towards Britain, leaving the government little time to prepare, and subsequently causing all manner of chaos: plane crashes, hotel fires, escaped prisoners, mass blackouts.

I’m at Risk of Becoming a Cat Person

Just before Christmas our cat Runty died and I wasn’t in any rush to find a replacement. I like cats well enough but I wouldn’t consider them one of life’s essentials. You can’t ride them; they won’t come with you on walks or bark at burglars or gaze at you like you’re the most wonderful, special, adorable person in the entire universe; plus, of course, they are the most evil, deadly and inappropriate predator.

Domestic cats kill an estimated 55 million birds each year in the UK alone — and an estimated total (when you add in all the mice, voles, slow-worms, newts and so on) of 275 million wild animals. When you live close to nature, as we do in the country, you see what a terrible struggle it is for animals just to stay alive under normal conditions. Introducing a moggy to your local ecosystem seems an act of wanton vandalism: like letting a hungry lion into a school playground.

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Something Smells Fishy at JCU

The university’s reef claims are found to be incorrect.

Do you remember the shocking scientific study about how baby fish in our polluted oceans now actually prefer eating plastic microbeads to their natural diet? It was reported everywhere from the Times and the Washington Post to the BBC and, very likely, the ABC too. Our media, as we know, just loves a nice, juicy, ‘it’s all our fault and we are not worthy to live on this fragile earth’ environmental disaster story.

What you’re much less likely to have come across, though, is the subsequent correction. That original 2016 story wasn’t just bunk, it was positively fraudulent.

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Bushfire of the vanities

By Anton Emdin. Concept Sarah Dudley

Environmental do-gooders, not ‘climate change’, are responsible for the latest inferno.

‘You are literally evil. Dante has a level for you… Now I know that you’re the type who would laugh at a train off to Auschwitz.’ Just one example of the typically caring, nurturing messages I’ve been getting from Australian greenies over the last couple of days. My crime? Telling it like it is about the bushfires.

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My 2019: mice, Marrakesh and a fond farewell to my dear friend Christopher Booker

Christopher Booker (centre) with Richard Ingrams (left) and William Rushton working on Private Eye magazine in 1963 (John Pratt/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Another year over and it wasn’t all bad, you know. Here are some of my personal highlights.

Best birthday parties: my dear old friend Liz Hogg’s 90th and my dear older friend’s Jim Lovelock’s 100th. The latter, in the Orangerie at Blenheim Palace, was possibly the most unboring semi-formal social occasion I’ve ever attended. My table included the philosopher John Gray, a dapper Japanese gentleman who had been blown out of his bed by the Hiroshima bomb, and an economist from northern Uganda who’d narrowly escaped the Lord’s Resistance Army massacres.

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The only way to survive Christmas TV is to avoid anything seasonal and watch Giri/Haji

Destined to become the actor of his generation: Will Sharpe as Rodney in Giri/Haji. Image: BBC / Sister Pictures / Luke Varley

If this blackly comic BBC drama doesn’t get every award going then there’s no justice.

The key to surviving the next couple of weeks of TV is to avoid like the plague anything that smacks of seasonal viewing. So, no Christmas specials (such as the semi-celebrity, elderly grown-ups version of University Challenge where the questions are even more laboriously PC than on the student edition), no Harry Potter, no adverts featuring tinsel, dragons and patronisingly diverse families making merry. Basically, you want to steer clear of terrestrial TV altogether — but with one exception. You may use BBC iPlayer to download the only decent drama series that slipped through the net: Giri/Haji.

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What have the Anglo-Saxons ever done for us?

It has been a while since I’ve considered the vexed question of Byrhtnoth’s ‘ofermod’. More than 30 years, in fact. I remember, as if it were yesterday, my Anglo-Saxon tutorials with dear, lovely, gentle Richard Hamer. And now he is the author of the standard translation being used by my children on their own university English Literature courses. (I suppose the Latin equivalent would be having been taught by the author of Kennedy’s ‘Eating’ Primer.)

Byrhtnoth’s ‘ofermod’ is the pivotal word in ‘The Battle of Maldon’, a 325-line fragment of Old English poetry about an otherwise obscure skirmish between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, and much studied on English courses because it’s one of very few surviving examples of our island’s nascent literature.

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The only bearable TV series these days are the ones with subtitles, like Der Pass

Plus: Olivia Colman is a woeful disappointment as Her Maj

Julia Jentsch and Nicholas Ofczarek in Sky Atlantic's Der Pass
Julia Jentsch and Nicholas Ofczarek in Sky Atlantic’s Der Pass

True to the Andrew Roberts rule that the only bearable series on TV these days are ones with subtitles, I’ve started watching Der Pass (Sky Atlantic). Not unlike The Bridge and The Tunnel, it starts with a dead body exactly straddling a border, thus requiring the intervention of detectives from two national jurisdictions. This time, it’s a shambolic male Austrian and a perky blonde German.

It’s fascinating to see what quirks foreign authors choose to give their detective characters.

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