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56 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Curate's Egg: 56 cheap rants at mostly obvious targets., 3 Jan. 2010
This review is from: 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain (Paperback)
I suppose "Fifty five people who made a mess of Britain" would not have sold as many copies.

And "Angry rants against fifty-five people who annoy me, and another one against twenty people who don't quite rate an individual chapter slagging them off" would have sold even fewer. But it would been a much more accurate title.

And it was the height of hypocrisy to include a chapter which slags off Stephen Marks, the head of French Connection UK who made a point of trying to sue for ownership of the mis-spelled F-word, for his contribution to "the coarseness of language" in a book which itself has an offensive word in the title. The name of this book is an example of exactly what Letts pillories in that chapter.

Most of the pieces in this book are witty and entertaining, at least for those who either sympathise with the high tory traditionalist right or can laugh with a view expressed from that direction even if they don't necessarily agree with it. I suspect there will also be few who don't agree with at least some of the charges made against Letts' chosen targets: Dr Beeching, Jeffrey Archer, and Paul Burrell for example.

Some of his other articles are interesting whether you agree with them or not, and this particularly applies to some of the minority of essays where the attack comes from left field rather than being easily predictable. For example, in one of the less vitriolic pieces in the book, he pins the blame for the start of the "Health and Safety" culture on the late Harold Walker MP (who he is careful to emphasise "often meant well. But that is not the same as saying he acheived good things. Not the same thing at all.")

The essay on Greg Dyke ignores or deliberately disavows several obvious lines of attack to make the point that one of the curses of today is tiredness caused by lack of sleep. Letts makes an interesting if perhaps overstated case that Dyke's decision to move the Nine O'Clock news back an hour to the slot vacated by "News at Ten" has contributed to that problem.

Letts also makes a thought provoking argument that the infamous challenge by JP McEnroe Junior "You cannot be serious!" did far more damage to good sportsmanship by contributing to a culture of lack of respect for referees and rules, than was immediately apparent at the time.

But, but, but and again but ...
(apologies to Ian Fleming)

There is a saying that you can judge a man by the quality of his enemies: show me someone who hasn't made any and I will show you someone who at best has not done very much. And it does seem that a lot of easy targets are selected in this book, some of whom are shot at, not because they did something wrong, but because they did something which not everyone liked (and to quote Mr Letts, this is "Not the same thing at all.")

For example, in some of the essays Letts has selected peculiar grounds to criticise someone who was unpopular for a rather different set of reasons. One or two of these - such as the Greg Dyke essay - are some of the best in the book, but the others are the worst ones.

As other reviewers have already mentioned his rather odd reason for attacking Mrs Thatcher, let me point to the even stranger reason he pillories Ted Heath. Since Ted was the man who took us into the Common Market, as the EU was then called, presided over the "Barber Boom" with a huge increase in the money supply, and took on the unions and lost, there are plenty of reasons why many people don't like him. Some of those reasons I have a great deal of sympathy for.

But what does Letts attack Ted for? Sacking Enoch Powell for the "Rivers of Blood" speech. I don't think many even of those who think this decision was a mistake will place it at the top of things Ted did that they disagree with.

Similarly Nicholas Ridley "was not a Conservative at all" and Jim Callaghan is attacked not for sabotaging "In place of Strife" or twice nearly bankrupting the country as Chancellor and then PM, but for decimalisation.

As other reviewers have pointed out, Quentin Letts builds up an amazing head of steam against some apparently inoffensive targets. Frank Blackmore gets it in the neck for inventing mini-roundabouts, and Dutch rally river Maurice Gatsonides because other people turned his system for timing his racing performance into the "Gatso" speed camera.

Christian composer Graham Kendrick has written a large number of modern hymns, some of which are excellent and some of which I personally dislike. But given some of the other views expressed in this book (for example, in the the section attacking Richard Dawkins), you would expect Letts to approve of someone who made christian worship more attractive to the modern generation. No, most of Kendrick's worst works - and none of the best - feature in a particularly angry and not very Christian rant from Letts.

Overall a very mixed bag. Some people will enjoy Letts' poisoned pen, but there will be few readers for whom at least one or two of the essays will not produce raised eyebrows.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Jan 2011 18:04:23 GMT
peter444 says:
This is a very restrained appraisal of Letts' tiresome book. I would have given less credit for the few times he's right and the target a worthwhile one, (maybe two or three, all disputable) and more blame for the number of essays in which Letts waxes vicious and vitriolic against slight irritations, or against people who annoy him (e.g. Alan Titchmarsh, who seems to me to be OK). Not a word about the hypocritical British press - obsessed with celebrities, trivialities and soft porn. I got it from Amazon for hardly more than the postage but it was still poor value. Couldn't finish it.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2011 13:31:20 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 May 2013 20:19:21 BDT
I take your point. I did think this was a book which some people would like most of, some people would dislike most of, and perhaps the largest block of readers would find some essays they enjoyed and some which had them going "What?"

So I tried to give an idea of which aspects of the book some people would like, and which aspects would probably annoy people.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Dec 2012 09:16:34 GMT
F. J. Harvey says:
What a precious little man you are
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