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Peter Fenelon

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Who Runs This Place?: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century
Who Runs This Place?: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century
by Anthony Sampson
Edition: Paperback

46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb legacy left by a brilliant journalist., 18 Feb 2005
Anthony Sampson died just after updating "Who Runs This Place" to the end of 2004. The book itself is an update of his 1962 "Anatomy Of Britain".
Sampson's goal was ambitious - to draw a map of the institutions that really mattered in Britain and trace the threads of influence and power that flowed between them, and to try to understand how things really got done. As an analysis of parliament, the political machine, the civil service, and "the Establishment", his work has rarely been bettered - Jeremy Paxman provided a sort of more anecdotal and perhaps entertaining analysis of the Establishment as it stood in the early 90s in "Friends In High Places", but Sampson's revised work is a masterpiece.
Unlike the earlier versions of the book, Sampson has several axes to grind rather conspicuously in this edition. His own politics surface occasionally - he was a founder Social Democrat, and it's clear that his own sympathies are somewhere to the Left of the Blair government. His analysis of parliament and the political parties is sobering -- he sees politics as being fundamentally in decline, with the two major parties re-invented as essentially support machines for presidential-style Prime Ministers or leaders of the opposition; politics as a career is seen as a refuge for talentless, visionless machine politicians from all ends of the spectrum, and the Liberal Democrats are seen as a regional irrelevance.
Sampson believes that the standards of Parliamentary debate are at an all-time low; that Cabinet government is in abeyance; the Lords has lost its role as a chamber that can have significant effects upon legislation; that the Civil Service is politicised and de-professionalised; and that political power is now in the hands of a Presidential-style Prime Minister and his "kitchen cabinet" of PR people and unelected advisors. It's sobering stuff.
Sampson's analysis then broadens into the quangos and agencies, the military/intelligence complex, the City and big business, academia, and the media; and finds that all of these are ever-more-closely tied to the nexus of power in Downing Street.
In a sense, the message of the first edition of this book was quite simple - a bengin, "Butskellite" consensus Establishment that drew from both moderate Labour and "one nation" Toryism ran Britain. The message of this edition is equally simple - the Prime Minister runs Britain, with little reference to party, Parliament, or people.
Sampson finds one ray of hope in the Unions. For decades castigated as bringing ruin upon British industry they're shown in this book as being more active, more relevant, more organised and more competent than both the Labour and Liberal Democrat party machines; more forward-looking in terms of social and political policy, more analytical and more vibrant.
This is a fine epitaph and a book that anyone with an interest in modern Britain needs to read. It's beautifully written, crisply understated, and closely argued.
A masterpiece.

Britain's Historic Railway Buildings: An Oxford Gazetteer of Structures and Sites
Britain's Historic Railway Buildings: An Oxford Gazetteer of Structures and Sites
by Gordon Biddle
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, comprehensible and attractive, 22 Jan 2005
The size and density of this book (over 750 pages, with well over a thousand historical and contemporary black and white photos) can make it appear rather forbidding at first, but if you consider it not merely as a listing of railway buildings but as a way of representing the history of railways in Britain it becomes much more manageable and fascinating. The history of railway companies and their lines and services is interwoven with descriptions and photographs of the structures.
Stations, engine sheds, warehouses, workshops, viaducts, bridges - all kinds of historically important structures are described (with many illustrated) and set against their historical context. Maps and diagrams show current and historical railway lines and assist the reader in understanding the relationship between the structures.

The book seems to have two main audiences - those interested in architecture (so quite a lot of technical language is used) and those interested in railway history -- as someone in both camps (although mainly on the railway side) I found it extremely interesting, a great book to browse through - it's structured by regions, so it's quite easy to gain a sense of local history from each part.

Forza Amon!: A Biography of Chris Amon
Forza Amon!: A Biography of Chris Amon
by Eoin Young
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but rather too short, 20 Jan 2005
Chris Amon has entered racing legend as "the man who never won a Grand Prix" - largely through bad luck. He could and indeed should have won many, and could so easily have taken a couple of championships.
Eoin Young's biography concentrates squarely on Amon the driver - from a teenager racing an obsolete Maserati 250F in New Zealand races against the established aces in their rear-engined Coopers to the man recognised as one of the quickest and best drivers of the late 60s and early 70s - there is much insight into how McLaren, Ferrari and Matra went racing.
The style is brisk and rather rushed, skipping over deeper personal insight in preference for analysis of Chris' racing career in single seaters and sports cars.
Some of the "Ditton Road Flyers" social scene is described, as are some of Chris' occasionally catastrophic business ventures, but the emphasis is firmly on racing - the personal side is somewhat neglected and at one point I'm sure Chris is described as getting divorced from someone who we haven't even been told he'd married!
The descriptions of the chaos Chris found at Tecno and the tribulations of the Amon F1 car (and the offers Chris threw away out of loyalty to his staff and backers), and Chris' twilight career at Ensign stand as a rather frightening footnote to a career that promised so much and yet despite success in so many other areas of motorsport failed to give Chris the Grand Prix wins and Championships he so richly deserved.
There is some interesting material about Chris' life after racing, bringing the story pretty much up to date.
A good book, but I was left with the definite impression that something twice its length still wouldn't be sufficient to cover all the detail I wanted to see.

Indy Racing Legends
Indy Racing Legends
by Tony Sakkis
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but desperately needs proofreading, 20 Jan 2005
This review is from: Indy Racing Legends (Paperback)
This is a collection of short biographical articles on drivers, engineers, team owners, and other personalities of Indy racing. While it's very good at evoking the characters of the people involved, the fact-checking and proofreading seems to have gone rather astray - Sakkis makes a few basic mistakes about other kinds of racing and there are typos galore (some of which suggest to me that the book was dictated without being proofread!)
Some good B/W photos, particularly of the 50s and 60s, and some atmospheric writing, but this is definitely in the "light, entertaining reading" category rather than a definitive book on Indy racing.

Frank Williams
Frank Williams
by Maurice Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful but "unofficial" biography, 20 Jan 2005
This review is from: Frank Williams (Hardcover)
Mo Hamilton didn't had the advantage of any co-operation from Sir Frank in the production of this biography, but he still manages to tell the story of his life in an engaging and detailed fashion.
Hamilton goes right back through Sir Frank's early years, his childhood and his attempts to break into racing in his 20s first as a driver and then as a wheeler-dealer, entrant and team owner. The description of this period in his life is excellent, touching on the extraordinary collection of impecunious racers sharing a disreputable flat in Pinner - Frank Williams, Piers Courage (who became Sir Frank's first F1 driver), Jonathan Williams etc.) - the atmosphere of the European F2/F3 "circus" is captured very well.
There is a good survey of Sir Frank's first attempts at F1 - the private Brabham and the ultimately tragic De Tomaso, the years with Marches, the FX/IR/FW cars, and the tangled web of the Wolf-Williams merger.
Most of the book covers Williams Grand Prix Engineering though - the fortuitous collaboration between Sir Frank and engineering guru Patrick Head, and the arrival of Alan Jones to complete the notably pragmatic trio. The early years - Jones' world championship, the classic FW07, the beginning of the Honda relationship - are covered in detail.
Then comes the crash that changed Frank Williams' life forever. The effects of this on the man, his family and the team are described in detail, although after this the pace of the book quickens a little too far and the later Honda and Renault years are covered in rather less detail.
Perhaps not quite as penetrating as Doug Nye's "Racers" which covers similar ground (with more direct involvement from the people involved, though it stops in the early 80s), but a good read and a well-constructed biography.

The Life of Senna: The Biography of Ayrton Senna
The Life of Senna: The Biography of Ayrton Senna
by Tom Rubython
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A tedious, bloated piece of journalese, 20 Jan 2005
This is a cynical, bloated, amateurish piece of hackwork seemingly published to tie in with the tenth anniversary of Senna's death.
In attempting to be definitive, it merely becomes overlong and phenomenally boring. That the greatest Formula One driver of his era's life can be reduced to such banal prose is almost impossible to believe.
Rubython also makes no attempt at impartiality - whenever he discusses the great rivalry between Prost and Senna he does so in terms that denigrate the Frenchman. (He's little better on the relationships between Senna and any other driver, or official).
Rubython's writing never rises above the turgid, and his grasp of basic facts is shaky.
By far the best book on Senna is Richard Williams' elegiac "The Death of Ayrton Senna". Christopher Hilton's "The Hard Edge of Genius" is much a better book on Senna's early career and first couple of seasons in F1. Both books give far more insight into Senna the man, Senna the driver and Senna the phenomenon.
All that's left in here is a rather lip-smackingly grotesque obsession with the minutiae of Senna's death, and some rather over-sentimental material about his family life.
Difficult to recommend to anyone but the most uncritical Senna fan, this is merely tedious hagiography, full of unnecessary padding, written in the kind of pseudo-exciting journalistic prose that reduces a great driver to a collection of cliches.
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Coventry Climax Racing Engines: The Definitive Development History
Coventry Climax Racing Engines: The Definitive Development History
by Des Hammill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.93

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable, concise and informative history, 19 Dec 2004
For a long time I've wanted a good full-length history of Coventry Climax engines and this fits the bill perfectly. It covers the full history of the Godiva (FPE), FW, FWM and FPF fours, FWMV V8 and FWMW flat-16, right from their conception to their racing career (or to their demise without racing, in the case of the Godiva and the flat-16). The stories of the company, of Leonard Lee and of Walter Hassan are interwoven with technical details of the engines, and a lot of works photographs and dyno sheets accompany the text. There are some good tales of the unsung heroes in the Experimental and Racing departments too.
Not a lavish book, but told with enthusiasm and crisply written, this book tells the story lucidly and gives a good insight into how Coventry-Climax briefly became the most successful racing engine manufacturer in the world.
Recommended to anyone with an interest in engines and engineering.

A Sense Of Freedom [DVD] [1979]
A Sense Of Freedom [DVD] [1979]
Dvd ~ David Hayman
Offered by babsbargains *** WORLDWIDE SHIPPING ***
Price: 39.99

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sobering and powerful, 12 Dec 2004
A fairly faithful adaptation of Jimmy Boyle's autobiography - or at least the second half of it. This is essentially the story of Boyle's life of crime as a "hard man" (although we miss out on the extensive description of his childhood in the Gorbals) and the Scottish prison system's attempt to tame him. Ironically, Boyle was imprisoned for life for a crime he probably didn't commit... although he walked free from many he did...
Prison after prison fails to break Boyle's spirit; the physical beatings he received and the isolation to which he was subjected served to turn his mind inwards and focus his hatred.
Before too long, Boyle was too dangerous for any prison to handle; the only solution being to transfer him to the "Special Unit" at Barlinnie where instead of trying to break prisoners down by force - or by drugs - the emphasis was on trying to rehabilitate violent criminals.
The film ends with Jimmy's transfer to Barlinnie, where Boyle discovered his affinity for art and started the transformation that saw him become an acclaimed sculptor.
David Hayman's performance as Boyle in this film is powerful and subtle - he's a "hard man" who wants no part of any system, a man trying to come to terms with the animal in himself and with the degradation around him. It's a visceral, physically courageous performance.
The DVD transfer of the film itself is pretty poor - colour and sound are somewhat murky. However, the DVD is accompanied by an excellent documentary about Boyle's new life, and his use of sculpture as a measns of therapy for other long-term prisoners.
Sobering, powerful and highly watchable.

Kes [DVD] [1969]
Kes [DVD] [1969]
Dvd ~ David Bradley
Price: 3.99

52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A film of power and beauty, 12 Dec 2004
This review is from: Kes [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
In the days before Ken Loach made obscure socalist parables he made this wonderfully accessible tale of childhood alienation in the North.
Billy (an astonishingly powerful performance by David Bradley) is a misfit at home and at school, a boy more drawn to the rugged Pennine landscape that surrounds his dreary hometown than to the drudgery of school and to the eventual horrors of working down the pit.
Billy's only friend is Kes - the young kestrel with whom he forms a real bond. Billy falls foul of brutal PE teacher Sugden (the legendary Brian Glover), but younger and more understanding Farthing (the equally excellent Colin Welland) realises that Billy has found his own variety of freedom, happiness and success.
Naturally for any "kitchen sink" drama, Billy's happiness cannot last and the prospect of a crushing non-future in the mines is all that's left to Billy...
Everything about this film is near-perfect. Cinematography, acting, direction, script, location, pacing. You really sense the freedom Billy craves in his relationship with Kes; the suffocating deadness of Barnsley contrasted with the beauty of the Yorkshire landscape; the casual brutality of the school system; the hopelessness of his environment.
And yet despite the ultimately bleak ending there is a grain of hope in the film - you can't take Billy's love of nature away from him, and even if the system tries to crush him there's always the magnificence of nature close by....
A wonderful and unmissable film.

"Porridge" Scripts
"Porridge" Scripts
by Richard Webber
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent display of the craft of comedy, 17 Nov 2004
This review is from: "Porridge" Scripts (Paperback)
Porridge is one of the finest sitcoms ever to have graced the British screen. The collected scripts show that it wasn't just the superb acting of Barker, Beckinsale, McKay and the rest that made it so brilliant, but the tautness and economy of the scripts. There isn't a wasted word in Clement and La Frenais' scripts - they're densely plotted and full of twists and turns. What's also evident is how much the writers loved language - constrained by what was acceptable on pre-watershed television they still managed to get a kind of bizarre lyric poetry out of the bowdlerised version of prison slang that they could get away with.
These scripts read brilliantly - many sitcoms don't translate well to the printed page because they're so dependent upon physical comedy. Porridge was always wordy and these scripts really do read like perfect little plays.
And most important of all, they're still hilarious.
So, nurks, scroats and assorted miscreants, pilfer yourselves a copy of this.

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