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This report is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

Writing in the Margin Neil Powell

Andrew Marr's recent series on postwar Britain was the kind of television many of us - especially if we happen to live in a rural, four-channel terrestrial area - had despaired of ever seeing again: the programmes were intelligently planned and beautifully edited; the commentary was articulate, thought-provoking and spiced with rather good jokes. This series told me much that I'd forgotten or never known about parts of my own lifetime on which I'd dared to think myself reasonably well-informed: so much, indeed, that I looked forward to reading Marr's accompanying book, A History of Modern Britain. A book, however, is different from a television series: it has to be judged as a book, and this one has a good deal wrong with it. Every page seems to contain a syntactical glitch or an unintentionally crunchy phrase: often, the problem is nothing worse than an absent comma or a split infinitive, yet somehow I'd hoped Marr would prove to be a more fastidious writer than that. There are maddening, gnat-bite irritations: Marr's ear, as well as his sense of accuracy, should have told him that 'winter of discontent' isn't 'a Shakespearean phrase', although 'winter of our discontent' is. The illustrations, too, seem randomly selected and carelessly captioned: a Morris Minor isn't the same as a Standard Ensign. Strangest of all, given that Marr is a former BBC Political Editor, are the howlers which afflict his account of political history: for instance, when he cites (and, subjunctive-immune, ...

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