Published Letters

Pocket politicians

The reason why politicians and public figures appear on television with their hands in their pockets (Letters, November 24) is simple. In an age when the world is crying out for strong leaders and statesmen, they feel that they’ll garner more votes by appearing casual, easy-going, and devoid of any airs and graces.
It’s also the reason they appear without ties and flaunt spouses, children, pets and coffee mugs.

Daily Telegraph
November 27, 2013

Tieless snobbery

SIR – One of the things I dislike about the no-ties and scruffy-jeans brigade is the implication that their disdain for sartorial excellence makes them superior to the rest of us. It’s a sort of reverse pomposity.

Daily Telegraph
November 2013

Grammar schools

SIR – Wendy Royce (Letters, June 30) wonders why Margaret Thatcher did not reinstate grammar schools during her eleven years in power. While I greatly admire Lady Thatcher, it must be remembered that she was a party politician through and through, and thus obsessed with votes.
The Conservative Party’s drift to the Left had begun under Ted Heath, when Lady Thatcher was education minister. Reinstating grammar schools would have seemed like a strident declaration of old Tory values to the wavering party members and potential converts among Labour voters.

Daily Telegraph
July 7, 2013

Commemorating (lost) battles, the French way

SIR – A few years ago a BBC programme invited French schoolchildren to think of some historical victories over the English. Without hesitation they started to recite “Azincourt, Crécy, Poitiers…”
Perhaps Napoleon was right when he said that history was “the agreed fable”.

Daily Telegraph
July 4, 2013


SIR – The wine converted to bioethanol fuel, as used by the Prince of Wales in his Aston Martin, is surplus to the amount that British vintners are allowed to sell under EU regulations.
Recycled wine is common throughout Europe. Favourites for conversion include Cabriolet Sauvignon, Carva, Riocar, Aston Spumante and Van Rouge.

Daily Telegraph
November, 2012

Get rid of chewing gum in cities

SIR – Theodore Dalrymple’s suggestion that chewing gum should be banned is not far-fetched: it has been banned in Singapore for several years.

Daily Telegraph
October 28, 2012

Arab leaders

As the Government congratulates itself on preventing Afghanistan from reverting to a terrorist training ground, let’s hope it doesn’t forget that there are other Muslim countries where terrorists stand a chance of safe haven.

Daily Telegraph
September 18, 2012

Scarecrow’s rights

SIR – Crows are clever. A farmer tells me that if he enters a field empty handed the crows ignore him. If he is carrying his shotgun, they take off.

The Sunday Telegraph
May 27, 2012

Abandoned fountain pens

SIR – People who have abandoned their fountain pens (Letters, May 10) will do well to check their drawers. My four old Parkers have been valued at £1,200. They are collector’s items.

The Daily Telegraph
May 11, 2012

Downton Abbey

SIR – Many of us are disillusioned with Downton Abbey (Features, October 25). However, isn’t there a certain joy in spotting the endless mistakes?

My favourite is the officers’ permanently worn Sam Browne belts. In real life, it’s discarded at the same time as one’s hat when indoors. Sir Jimmy Savile once commented that the secret of his success was that he ‘made everyone feel a bit superior’. In this respect Downton Abbey hits the spot.

The Daily Telegraph
October 26, 2011

Blame the bartender

SIR – I was interested to read Andrew M. Brown’s article about the effects of alcohol. A major component of Britain’s drink problem is irresponsible dispensing: continuing to serve drinks when the consumer is clearly drunk.

Greed is the main reason for this. In the United States, if there is any kind of accident attributable to alcohol, the dispenser can be held legally responsible, charged and punished. Such a law here would make a difference.

The Daily Telegraph
October 17, 2011


SIR – In North Country dialect a ‘clegg’ is a horsefly – an insect that can be a nuisance but hardly a major threat.

The Daily Telegraph
April, 2011

Question Time Luxury

SIR – Viewers who are put off by programmes such as Question Time being featured at ‘unsocial hours’ (Letters, June 27) should invest in a television recorder. It offers the exquisite luxury of being able to surf through the boring bits of predictable guff and only watch those speakers who have something to say.

The Daily Telegraph
July 4, 2010

Defence cuts

SIR – When the Government has abolished the RAF, perhaps it will turn its attention to the army, where 180 brigadiers, plus major-generals and lieutenant-generals swell the payroll.

The Sunday Telegraph
June 21, 2009

Not all wine connoisseurs are charlatans:The difference between non-vintage and vintage champagne

'A hint of eucalyptus': wine tasting in a 19th-century painting.

'A hint of eucalyptus': wine tasting in a 19th-century painting.

SIR – Amji Abinashi is entitled to some scepticism towards wine tasting. It sometimes smacks of hoax, and a standing joke in the trade is the frequency with which an inexpensive wine scores highest at a tasting of different vintages. This is sometimes attributable to the fact that the cheaper wine has been opened and aired before tasting.

However, the difference in quality between non-vintage and vintage champagne is quite unmistakable, even to amateurs, and the taste of wines such as vintage Château Latour or Bernkasteler Doktor is unforgettably sublime. You know you’re drinking something special and different.

The Daily Telegraph
April 8, 2009

Hollow laughter at Tony Blair’s attack on the feral media

SIR – Many of us regard the media with genial contempt, but they are the only effective opposition to lunatic governments. More ferocious power to their elbows!

The Daily Telegraph
June 14, 2007

Queen Victoria’s gift to the troops

SIR - In 1900, Queen Victoria sent 40,000 boxes of chocolates, actually decorated tins, to the troops in South Africa fighting the Boer War (Letters, December 16). Some of these tins have survived as ‘collectibles’. Such a gesture today would result in a bonanza on eBay.

The Daily Telegraph
December 19, 2006

Back-up bow ties

SIR - Having to wear a clip-on bow tie when dining with the Queen is appalling enough but what is truly shocking is that Philip Delves-Broughton should possess only one black bow tie. I have six. One should have back-ups for all critical dress items.

The Daily Telegraph
December 19, 2006

Servants to tradition

SIR - Gossip in the Royal Household seems to vary from reign to reign. Queen Victoria once took it into her head that one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting, Flora Hastings, was pregnant as a result of an affair with Sir John Conroy, the Duchess of Kent’s comptroller at Kensington Palace. She’d spotted the couple together in a carriage, and it had been reported to her that they’d travelled to Scotland together unchaperoned. The Queen insisted on a medical examination which revealed that Flora was a virgin and the supposed pregnancy a swelling cancerous growth on the liver, from which she soon died. Someone leaked the story and there was a general outcry. The Queen was hissed at by the crowd at Ascot. Lady-in-waiting Marie Mallet, describing court life in her book Life with Queen Victoria, observed: “Everyone is afraid of his or her neighbour, and a deadly level of caution and dullness drives me nearly mad. I feel sorely tempted to say something outrageous in order to enjoy the consternation that would promptly ensue.” Plus ça change?

The Daily Telegraph
November 3, 2006

Bus travel

SIR - À propos bus travel and Winston Churchill, Lady Churchill once famously wondered: “What would people think if they discovered that the Prime Minister had never been on a bus?”

The Sunday Telegraph
November 3, 2006

All aboard the OAP bus

SIR - Somerset is lucky if it enjoys a 20p bus fare (Letters, October 20). Here in Brighton & Hove the minimum fare is £1.75 – more than a bus ride in New York. However, one can appreciate the problems faced by councils. On a recent journey every seat was occupied, and only three people were fare-paying passengers under 70. No wonder some call the south coast the Costa Geriatrica.

The Sunday Telegraph
July 2, 2006

Voting Systems

SIR - The novelist Nevil Shute propounded a system with seven types of votes. Every adult receives one basic vote.

Further votes are granted for education or professional qualifications, working or studying abroad for two years (including military service). A family vote is awarded for raising two children to the age of 14 without getting a divorce.

An achievement vote is awarded for those who attain a certain level of salary. And a ‘church vote’ for anyone working for a recognized church. The seventh vote would be awarded by the Queen, like a decoration.

The Sunday Telegraph
July 2, 2006


SIR - Unusually, Sir John Keegan is missing a point when he says “a nuclear Iran would not be able to use its nuclear weapons against Israel without suffering terrible consequences, as the Ayatollahs know with at least one half of their brains”. The other half of their brains may be consumed by the suicide-bomber mentality, which will happily accept those terrible consequences.

The Sunday Telegraph
July 2, 2006

Should princes fight in the front line?

Should princes fight in the front line?

SIR - A tragic precedent may influence the Army’s thinking about Prince Harry in the front line. In 1879, the Prince Imperial of France, Napoleon Eugene, was killed while he was attached to the British Army during the Anglo-Zulu war. Probably not surprisingly, the careers of the officers involved were irrevocably blighted.

The Daily Telegraph
April 25, 2006

Tattoo removal

SIR – The Engineer Admiral who regretted his tattoos (Letters, July 23) should perhaps not have worried. Field Marshal Montgomery, Tsar Nicholas II and George V all wore tattoos. Yet prejudice still exists. An Army acquaintance of mine, commissioned from the ranks into a regiment about to go to a tropical station where ‘shirt-sleeve order’ was the norm, was so appalled at the prospect of being the only officer on parade with tattooed arms that he burned them off with acid. It was a painful process.

The Daily Telegraph
April 25, 2006


SIR – I served in Gibraltar for a year during the Franco era making many friends both on the Rock and in Spain. On one occasion we visited a Spanish artillery mess where, with much amusement and rolling of eyes, they showed us their plans for capturing Gibraltar. Later I lived in Madrid. Neither the Spanish government nor the Spanish people have any real visceral interest in reclaiming Gibraltar. They might as well reclaim Portugal. The only reason they raise the issue is because it’s a cheap way of demonstrating a resolve which they lack in other areas of government. Pointless huffing and puffing! The only hope of winning over the Gibraltarians is to seduce them by offering them a better economic deal. Even if that happens we should still cling to the Rock for better control of the terrorist risk in the area, as pointed out by Sir John Keegan.

The Daily Telegraph
August 4, 2004


SIR – Years ago, as a soldier on leave in Madrid, I was introduced to General Franco. When he asked me where I was stationed, I confessed, with some embarrassment, that it was Gibraltar. He blessed me with one of his rare and wintry smiles and said, “Don’t worry. Gibraltar doesn’t interest me. I just use it to annoy those damned socialists [malditas socialistas] in London.” But what is the current motivation? And why is the question of Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, so rarely raised?

The Daily Telegraph
November 25, 2003

Lacking equipment

SIR - Poorly equipped troops are, unfortunately, nothing new. This week marks the 125th anniversary of one of the greatest military disasters of the Victorian age. At Isandlwana in 1879, a British Army column was almost totally destroyed: 1,100 men were killed and mutilated after being attacked by about 25,000 Zulus. Modern research has shown that a major cause of the defeat was lack of equipment. The ammunition boxes could be opened only with a special screwdriver, of which the standard issue was one per battalion. Although on average each British soldier accounted for more than three of the enemy, the ammunition simply couldn’t be distributed quickly enough in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Daily Telegraph
April 14, 2003

Blame poor leadership

SIR - Christopher Egerton-Thomas repeats the old canard about the calamitous British loss of life at the battle of Isandlwana in 1879: that the lack of a screwdriver was to blame. An archaeological survey on the site uncovered screws of the type used in boxes of ammunition, which were bent in the middle. In an attempt to discover why, investigators used a standard rifle of the Zulu wars to attack a sealed box laid on its side. This was broken open after two blows with the butt of the rifle; the retaining screw was bent in a similar manner to those found on the battle field. The crucial factor, however, was the time taken: three or four seconds, far quicker than using a screwdriver. The real responsibility for the slaughter lies with the suppliers of faulty rifles and poor military leadership.

Charles Rushton, York

The Daily Telegraph
April 14, 2003

Trendy chap

SIR - Richard Shaw should buy some American over-the-calf socks that stay up without mechanical assistance. These are hard to find in England, where most trendy chaps like to show a beguiling inch or two of slug-white, hairy ankle between sock and trouser when they sit, but they are standard issue in America.

The Daily Telegraph
April 14, 2003

Henry VIII

SIR – David Starkey emphasises Henry VIII’s obsession with producing sons but fails to mention that he had a son by Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary, who was married off to William Carey. I confess that I became aware of this only through watching Simon Schama’s television series.

The Daily Telegraph
February 17, 2003

French nobility

SIR – With regard to the recent discussion of Giscard d’Estaing’s nobility, more than 70,000 French families use the nobiliary particle ‘de’ though they are not entitled to do so. Their names are recorded in the ‘Dictionary of Vanities’. Of course, in the UK, if one chose to change one’s name to ‘Lord Snooty’ that would be within the law. In the French Republic titles are not officially recognized, but for a small additional sum a title can be incorporated in one’s passport. Service personnel may not use titles but it’s all right to say ‘Colonel et Comtesse de Toulon’.

The Daily Telegraph
February 17, 2003

Publishing woes

SIR – I sympathise with Craig Brown’s frustrations at the botched promotion of his book (Way of the World, Feb 15). I can only say welcome to the club. A few years ago in New York I was dismayed to find my new book tucked away on page 47 of the major publisher’s catalogue and to learn that there were no plans for its promotion. I decided to drum some up myself – successfully – with five television appearances including two hours of Good Morning America.

The promotion department was impressed but didn’t support my effort. A Fifth Avenue bookstore devoted a whole store window to my book, yet two weeks later it still hadn’t received more copies when it had sold all the original stock. Demand was constant for a while but the operation withered on the vine.

Publishing books is like selling anything else at the retail level. Distribution, promotion and advertising must all come together. Unfortunately publishers are the most inept businessmen – they make Railtrack look good.

The mockery is that they can get it right sometimes. That is when the order to promote a book comes from the highest authority and a generous promotional budget is allotted. How does one achieve this? By connection. True, there are some ‘accidental’ best-sellers, which succeed on their merits, but they are few. If a book by a well-known columnist in a major newspaper bites the dust, what hope is there for outsiders? Writing is a sort of masochism – except for the connected.

The Daily Telegraph
February 17, 2003

Scoff it down

SIR – It was reassuring to see that restaurant customers spend more when classical, rather than pop, music is played (report, Oct 8). Studies in America have demonstrated, however, that people eat more quickly when loud pop music is played. Thus some restaurateurs focus on turnover rather than on the amount spent per head.

The Daily Telegraph
February 17, 2003

King Constantine

SIR – Why do the media constantly refer to King Constantine as the ‘King of Greece’? He is the King of the Hellenes, and still recognized as such diplomatically. At royal functions where the Queen herself is not present, the Greek national anthem is played before the British.

The Daily Telegraph
February 17, 2003

Mick the barbarian

SIR – Some will applaud Mick Jagger’s knighthood. Others may recall Hilaire Belloc’s ominous words: “We sit by and watch the Barbarian…We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on these faces there is no smile.”

The Daily Telegraph
June 17, 2002

Mixed Singles

SIR – Reading your women’s section always warms the cockles of my heart. Apropos your ‘poetess’ Fiona Pitt Kethley of June 28:

How does your Miss Pitt-Kethley
Qualify as a poetess?
Frankly, I find her pretty deathly;
Like most women’s, her mind’s a mess!
Her face is very much à claque
(That’s the kind you’d love to smack…).
She doesn’t rhyme, she doesn’t scan –
No wonder she can’t get a man!

The Daily Telegraph

Boris’s Athenian dream

SIR – I was amused by Andrew Gimson’s description of Boris Johnson’s admiration for Pericles and his praise of ancient Athenian ‘democracy’. In ancient Athens, only land-owning male citizens, possibly as few as 6,000, had the right to vote. This is what Pericles meant by the whole people. Women, foreigners and slaves could not vote. Perhaps a better Athenian idol might be Draco, who dispensed the death penalty for even minor infringements.

The Daily Telegraph


SIR – Lord Alton of Liverpool’s letter concerning the threat to Christians in Muslim countries (Oct 30) is timely. If only more countries would copy the example of Oman, where the Sultan has presented each of the two flourishing Christian churches with an organ.

The Daily Telegraph
October 31, 2001

How to pay the bill… sneakily

SIR – Some of Peregrine Worsthorne’s restaurant-going friends do seem a little inept, judging by his latest anecdote.

While a waiter undoubtedly has a role to play in restaurant theatre-ritual, it is no part of his duty to become embroiled in the diners’ private drama of deciding who shall pay.

Anyone who wishes to ensure that they pay the bill should simply go to the restaurant before the guests arrive and give the manager a credit card, or enough cash to cover the envisaged total, and explain the reason. Then a determined host can excuse himself towards the end of the proceedings and sign or settle up ‘back-stage’ or ‘in the wings’.

It is perfectly normal. Simply saying to the waiter or manager “Make sure I get the bill” will not necessarily work, as the opportunity to argue will occur when the bill is presented.

To demonstrate super-cool ‘restaurant presence’ one can establish an account and instruct the staff to simply total the bill and add a percentage service charge, without presenting it at table. Of course this vastly increases one’s chances of being ‘ripped off’. But isn’t that part of the mystical, masochistic ‘joy of restaurants’?

The Sunday Telegraph
January 4, 1998

Mahdi’s warning

SIR - Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt seems to ignore an important factor in his assessment of the value of our nuclear deterrent (letter No.13). We have seen many examples of ‘suicide bombers’ recently. How can we be sure that an insane leader will not risk the total destruction of his own people? In his message to General Gordon at Khartoum, the Mahdi threatened to attack, saying, “… shall thus grant many of my followers the privilege of early entrance to Paradise…” He was as good as his word. Will governments have the guts to order pre-emptive strikes which offer the only solution to such threats?

The Daily Telegraph
November 19, 1997

England lacks…

SIR – After 20 years in which my life was divided between New York and England, I can assure you that the Americanisation of Britain (Hugo Gordon article, Aug 1) is almost complete.

The language is heavily Americanised with ‘payphone’, ‘train stations’, ‘campus’, and people being ‘harassed,’ ‘cheating on’ their spouses and being given a ‘hard time’.

Only a few quaint words such as ‘knickers’ and ‘lorry’ puzzle the foreign ear. Will Mr Blair’s ministers soon be required to chew gum with an open mouth in public, as Mr Clinton and his adviser George Stephanopoulos regularly do on television?

But why can’t we import some of the better features of American life such as petrol at 90p a gallon, 1.75 litres of vodka for less than £5; Church’s shoes at two-thirds the London price; two-litre cars with air-conditioning for less than £10,000; free local telephone calls; co-ordination of dress accessories; the death penalty?

The inevitable answer, I fear, expressed in the American vernacular, is simple: “Dream on, sucker. But don’t hold ya breath!”

The Daily Telegraph
August 12, 1997

Dam Buster atrocity

SIR – Valiant and ingenious though the Dam Busters raid was, it should be remembered that many civilians and Russian prisoners of war were killed as a result of it. In Germany, the action was regarded as an atrocity.

The Daily Telegraph

The Dam Busters raid was justified

SIR – The letter by Christopher Egerton-Thomas (August 28) displays all the naivety of the benefit of hindsight, allied to the current regard for political correctness. The crews of 617 Squadron were engaged in total war against a ruthless enemy; they no doubt fervently believed that their actions would limit armament production in the Ruhr and possibly shorten the war.

The actions of the crews showed the highest courage and daring and a disregard for their own lives in carrying out the raid. Fifty-three of the 133 airmen were killed; loss of life is inevitable in any military action, but this must be weighed against the overall gain.

The loss of life as a consequence of the Dam Busters raid was surely justified once advancing allied troops discovered the true depth of the horror at Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau and other concentration camps.

If Mr Egerton-Thomas wishes to use the word ‘atrocity’, then surely it must be in this context.

Malcolm Reeves, Chairman, 7 Squadron Association, Knaresborough, North York

The Daily Telegraph


SIR – Petronella Wyatt’s stellar excursion reminded me of my brief astrological career, writing ‘telephone horoscopes’. The work load was daunting – seven days and 12 star signs meant 84 scripts a week. However, modern technology came to the rescue and I put the ‘Search & Replace’ feature of my word processor to good use. After some judicious editing to make sure that Geminis’ fate was suitably ambiguous and Cancers’ – sorry Moon-Children’s – not too adventurous, and with a nod to the changing position of the planets, I found that last week’s Pisces worked perfectly well as next week’s Aquarius etc. It’s not quite so easy in print, but if you look hard you can detect recycling. Long before I was able to retire to bougainvillea land I was replaced by someone who saw the future with equal clarity but at a cheaper rate.

The Spectator
March 27, 1993

Can you get a smile from a saint?

SIR – I’m not sure where Mary Kenny should go for smiling saints. Russian Orthodox paintings may be the most likely source. But she shouldn’t expect too much luck. Alfred North Whitehead observed: “The total absence of humour from the Bible is one of the most singular things in all literature.” Perhaps a scholar will comment.

The Sunday Telegraph
June 12, 1988

Bike wisdom

SIR – I can vouch for Bob Roper’s bike wisdom. Biking in the traffic in Bad Homburg, Germany, recently I was pulled over by a policewoman. She informed me that one could ride a bicycle anywhere in Bad Homburg, except the road; that ‘zero tolerance’ was the policy for traffic in the town, and that there had not been a single casualty in eight years.

The Times

Sons and Publishers

TO THE EDITOR – If, as Jay Parini suggests in his review of Martin Amis’s novel ‘Success’ (Sept. 6), Mr. Amis hates hearing reviewers refer to him as ‘the son of Kingsley Amis’, perhaps he should use a pen name.

The comparison of Amis junior with Evelyn Waugh may be more appropriate than Mr. Parini realizes. Poor Waugh’s struggles as a writer were mercifully ended when his father, a director of Chapman & Hall, agreed to publish his books.

As an Englishman I’m still learning the local lingo, but I think the appropriate expression is: ‘’Gimme a break!’’

New York Times

Fifty-first state?

SIR – While American imperialism in the Middle East is a deadly concern, colonisation is the single best thing that could happen to Haiti (leading article, Jan 19, 2010). A return to the status quo ante will simply be a return to a lesser disaster.

The Times