Brought to Book: Vin Arthey

  • October 15, 2010 14:37
  • Katy Scholes

Vin Arthey, author of the Dialogue Espionage Classic, The Kremlin's Geordie Spy , gets Brought to Book:

What is your favourite book and why?

Can I give you two? Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment, for the fairy stories themselves and for the exploration of their importance and their meanings. And George Orwell's Collected Essays, Letters and Journalism, for the honesty and the clarity of the writing and Orwell's understanding of England - its people and its language. If you're going to be brutal, it would be the Bettelheim, because I can get it into my pocket.

As a child, what was your favourite book and why?

Richmal Crompton's Just William. My father gave it to me, his copy, I still have it, when I was seven or eight. It was my first experience of laughing out loud when reading a book. Reading it gave me such joy. It still does. I read it aloud to my own children. I can remember all of us all rolling around with laughter. My children love books, and I hope that experience is part of the reason.

What book would you take on holiday this year?

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. It takes me years to get round to the Booker winners, but I'm catching up. It's been recommended to me by so many different people, from other writers to folk in my village pub. I'm preparing to savour it. With a bit of luck I’ll be able to get to Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question before next year’s winner is announced!

Do you have a favourite espionage book/biography?

Has to be Pavel Sudoplatov's Special Tasks. It's not always reliable, of course, but it spans the whole of Soviet history and the aftermath. It lifts curtains, pushes doors ajar, and when you peep in you see so much, and want to find out more.

Which book published in the last ten years do you think is the most significant?

I suppose you mean of those I've read. I'm sure the world will say that there have been more significant books, in the great scheme, but for me it's been Robert Dallek's two volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant. It's not just a life story but an explanation of the United States and its world role in the last 100 years.

Which literary character would you most like to be and why?

P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves - because he's the problem solver's problem solver. And because of the opportunity to control the ruling class!

Get your copy of Vin's book The Kremlin's Geordie Spy for £9.99 here.


Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas available now in paperback!

  • October 14, 2010 15:23
  • Katy Scholes

The biography of Britain's leading wartime codebreaker by one of the top female codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

Alfred Dillwyn Knox was Britain’s leading wartime codebreaker, a famously eccentric and temperamental genius who cracked German ciphers in both wars. During the Second World War Knox became Britain’s chief cryptographer, working in a cottage at the world-famous Bletchley Park. His work would eventually provide the solution to German secret service Enigma cipher, ensuring the success of the 1944 D-Day landings.

A compelling portait of a great British eccentric and a fascinating and detailed behind-the-scenes look into codebreaking and the hidden side of war.

Following the success of the hardback edition published last year,
Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas is now available in paperback from the Biteback website priced £9.99


Beckett on Browne and the guilty boomers

  • October 13, 2010 12:52
  • Katy Scholes

In response to the controversial Browne report, the article that follows was published today in the Belfast Telegraph. Francis Beckett, as can be expected by anyone who's familiar with Francis and his work, has much to say about the topic for which he is known for his expertise. Francis is the author of two books that concern both the success of schools and the betrayal of the baby boomers on the generations that succeed them.

The Browne report signals the end of free higher education

Born in 1948, the author of yesterday’s report recommending higher student fees, Lord Browne, is a full paid up baby boomer – a member of the post war baby boom. His sixties student days at St Johns College, Cambridge, came free, courtesy of the taxpayer.

By and large, taxpayers – men and women of an earlier generation, did not mind too much, because it was a symbol of the post-1945 political philosophy which believed higher education should be a universal right, and not just for those who could afford it, as it had been in the thirties.

When Lord Browne was a student, only about ten per cent of the population had higher education – it is over a third now. But a real effort was being made to ensure that it was not just a perk of the rich, as it had been in the thirties and forties.

In the sixties, for the first time, proletarian and regional accents were heard throughout the British university system, and (except in a few ancient institutions) their owners were no longer made to feel out of place. We (for I, too, went to university in the sixties) grew up at the time when – as he famously told the Labour Party conference – Neil Kinnock was “the first Kinnock in 1,000 generations” to have a university education. The idea that one might have to pay for education, at any level, seemed to us primitive.


In the sixties and the seventies, the baby boomers fought for greater freedom from financial worry, which meant higher student grants. We took it for granted that we did not have to worry about paying for our tuition. In 1975, Charles Clarke, president of the National Union of Students, was leading huge marches of students through central London demanding higher grants.

In 1997, the first baby boomer Prime Minister, Tony Blair, walked into Number Ten. From that moment, free higher education was doomed. We did not know it at the time – we thought the first Labour government for 18 years would make the system better for students who did not come from wealthy homes. And if anyone had told us that the Education Secretary who wielded the axe would be Charles Clarke, we would have laughed in their face. But it was.

It was the baby boomers in government who took away from future generations the freedom from worry and debt that we had demanded for ourselves. We were told at the time that the fees would be capped to limit the burden of debt they would create. But by then, most of us baby boomers were middle-aged and cynical, and knew that come the first sign of real economic difficulty, the door had been opened for students to pay the full cost of their university education, just as they used to in the thirties. And, just as it used to be in the thirties, universities would once again become the preserve of the wealthy.

The crisis is here, and there is a baby boomer ready finally to pull up the ladder that we baby boomers climbed. Lord Browne's report calls for the £3,290 cap on fees to be scrapped. Instead it proposes a free market in fees, and charges of up to £12,000 a year for a degree course. The posher the university, the bigger the fees. A few working class children may still get into former polytechnics, mainly to do vocational courses, but Lord Browne will be able to go to reunions at St John’s College feeling fairly certain that he won’t meet any of the hoi polloi among the students there.

There are a few figleaves. There always are. For example, under Lord Browne’s scheme, students only start paying back when their income reaches £21,000. None of it makes any difference. We are already hearing young people say they are not going to university because they do not want to be saddled with a mountain of debt. Now many more will be saying it.

Who will benefit from Lord Browne’s report? Employers will. Comfortable folk in late middle age, who have spent long careers working their way up the greasy pole to the dizzy heights of chairman of BP will find a young workforce far better suited to their needs. Universities, said Lord Browne, should be forced to publicise the employment rates of graduates, so that they can be judged on how far they meet the needs of companies like BP. Unversities can be forced to train for industry, rather than educate for life. “Employers report that many graduates lack the skills they need to improve productivity”, said Lord Browne’s report.

Of course the baby boomers, when they were young students, demanded, and got, a much better and more civilised deal. But that was then. This is now.

Francis Beckett's books How to Create A Successful School and What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us? are available here and here for £14.99 and £12.99, respectively.


Shirley Williams at the book launch of Making the Difference

  • October 12, 2010 11:49
  • Katy Scholes

Last night Biteback had the pleasure of hosting the launch party for Making the Difference: Essay's in honour of Shirley Williams where Shirley Williams and Andrew Duff, MEP and editor of the book, could be found cheerfully signing copies.

Andrew Duff spoke about the book and its contributors before handing over to Shirley who gave a wonderful speech about some of the topics covered in it. Making the Difference is a collection of essays by her peers, contemporaries and protegés on the themes and issues she has campaigned on during the course of her inspirational career in politics.

Among other things, she paid reference to Germaine Greer's chapter 'Women in Parliament' noting that greater attention was paid during the general election campaign to the women on the arms of the party leaders rather than the women in politics themselves. A point few can refute. She also had many gracious things to say about her contempories who had contributed and many of whom were in attendance.

To get your copy of Making the Difference for £19.99 click here.


Total Politics and Weber Shandwick bring you The Class of 2010!

  • October 11, 2010 12:45
  • Katy Scholes

The Class of 2010 is an invaluable guide to all 232 new MPs who have entered Parliament following the 2010 general election. The book is arranged alphabetically by MP's surname; each entry contains a potted biography (including details of life before Parliament, both political and non-political), a constituency profile with details of majority and swing in the 2010 poll, notable quotes from and about the MP, and contact details.

Whatever you need to know about the new intake, The Class of 2010 is your first port of call.

Available now from the Biteback website priced £50.00 here.