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50 People Who Buggered Up Britain by Quentin Letts

Buy 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain by Quentin Letts at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: The author's choice of people in public life, mainly from the political and media world, who have in one way or another dumbed down or tarnished the name of Britain in the last thirty years or so.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Constable
ISBN: 978-1845298555

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In a rather less permissive age, 20 or 30 years ago, I suspect that the author might have been at the top of some people's list of culprits for using that naughty b-word. Good grief, man, you can't possibly have that in a book title, what!

OK, Quentin Letts, Daily Mail parliamentary sketch writer and theatre critic, Radio 4 presenter and former Times and Telegraph columnist, just has. Lest anybody think that a Daily Mail hack is bound to be fiercely right-wing in his choice of fifty people responsible for making Britain the wreck she is today, think again.

For he castigates fiercely those on both sides of the political spectrum. Every Prime Minister of the last 40 years or so except for John Major gets put in the stocks, metaphorically speaking. Wilson has a smack on the wrist for the proliferation of state-paid Special Advisers (harmless enough for those who aren't paying their salaries, but you and I are), Callaghan for abolishing the rich heritage that was sterling currency for trendy decimalisation (something which can be argued about endlessly, I agree), and Thatcher for doing lasting damage to the country by declaring war on the National Union of Mineworkers, and losing much of the Conservative vote in the north for a generation if not for good.

Heath, Blair, Brown, current speaker Michael Martin, and senior ministers such as the laughable John Prescott and the ruthless NIMBY Nicholas Ridley, also get brickbats for one reason or another. The Lib Dems escape unscathed, perhaps because they never came close enough to the corridors of power to matter that much in the grand scheme of things.

Away from the political arena, Letts's choices are a varied bunch. Diana, 'an odd mixture of simpering shyness and galloping egomania', who 'made us more neurotic', Julia Smith, creator of the terminally depressing East Enders (I agree, give me a Leonard Cohen album any day), and Janet Street-Porter, 'the squawking embodiment of yoof, also end up with a good caning.

The book sets out to be controversial, and means to be provocative as well as to amuse, entertain and inform. Some pages will leave you angry, some chuckling, some questioning the author's judgement. I doubt if any reader would agree wholeheartedly with every choice. Jimmy Savile? C'mon, guys'n'gals, for all that eccentric dress sense, surreal hair and omnipresent cigar, the man's heart was in the right place, as it 'appens. And Alan Titchmarsh? Making television gardening uninformative and babyish, and winning a bad sex prize for one of his novels, hardly places him that high in the rogues' gallery, surely?

There is a short list of 'bubbling under' candidates who almost made it (Victoria Beckham, Sir Terence Conran, and Esther Rantzen, to name three) and two pages for readers to supply their own candidates. Can I just take my place in the queue to nominate Andrew Morton, the man who made millions out of deifying Diana, and the ludicrously overpaid, insufferably conceited and abysmally unfunny Jonathan Ross, please?

For further reading, may we point you towards A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr, Having It So Good by Peter Hennessy (albeit dealing with an earlier period than the one this book covers), or the life story of one of the 50 guilty people, Prezza: My Story by John Prescott.

Booklists.jpg 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain by Quentin Letts is in the Top Ten Books about Britain, Britishness, and the Brits.

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