4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Laughter And Dissent,
This review is from: Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies (Paperback)
To my mind, Francis Wheen, has gone down hill in recent years from the heady of heights of this book and his two brilliant biographies (Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions and Karl Marx). I put it down to the company he keeps, in particular Oliver Kamm, one time hedge fund-ist, self declared lefty and pedant in chief for The Times; and David Aronovitch, smug-alec par excellence whom I last came across puffing up David Milliband, likewise in The Times. But all this was in the future. This collection of journalism from the 1990's and the first couple of years of the millennium sees Wheen in full stride, dissenting in his singular and seriously funny style against the perceived wisdom of the day, sniffing out hypocrisy and hum-bug with un-erring accuracy.
His range of targets is laudably wide, and includes many prominent figures of that period. There was no honeymoon period vis-à-vis Tony Blair for our Francis, he smelt him out in early on when Blair was in opposition. Not the only writer to do so (Blair was and is an open invitation for satirical writers), but no other writer skewers him with quite as much skill and wit. Likewise with John Major's and his most (only?) favourable attribute: his alleged "decentness", which Wheen rationally appraises and finds to be overstated to say the least.
Lower order figures come under scrutiny, including a well deserved mauling for Robert Maxwell's mendacious minions within the Labour Party not a few of whom re-surfaced (unlike Captain Bob) under Blair, for example Helen Liddell ("I never worked for Robert Maxwell"), "The truth is slightly different [retorts Wheen]. During the 1988 Commonwealth Games [while Maxwell's director of corporate affairs] she clung to him so closely that at one point she even follows him into the gents lavatory - a scene that was recorded for posterity by a BBC TV documentary crew".
The focus isn't purely on politicians, Wheen also writes about literature, class, the media industry and a variety of other subjects. Even when I didn't agree with him, and his piece on the Nato attack on Serbia is one that I thought a little disingenuous, he still makes pertinent points.
"Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies" contains some of the best journalism on the Major and early Blair eras. Wheen's wit and sense of fun are ideal companions for revisiting that depressing period. This book is one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend and shall no doubt read again.