The latest on books and the arts


Frankie Howerd as slave Lucio in Up Pompeii. Photo: Rex Features
Mary Beard: humour in ancient Rome was a matter of life and death
By Mary Beard - 12 June 10:00

It has always been bad for your public image to laugh in the wrong way or to crack jokes about the wrong targets, not least in the presence of Caligula…

Quick on the draw: Jonathan Meades (right) in 1955
A bugging device in boy form: Jonathan Meades, the early years
By Philip Oltermann - 12 June 10:00

Little Jonathan records every stain on his mother’s apron, every item of rubbish in the stream where his father went fishing.

The best to you: a woman inspects old-style Corn Flakes packets in a mock-up retro Tesco, Goodwood 2012. Photo: Getty
Chasing the sun: the radio station where it’s always breakfast
By Antonia Quirke - 12 June 10:00

Global Breakfast Radio follows the sun around the world, streaming any local morning show for ten minutes, then moving on. 

Neigh bother: an Indian blacksmith changes a horse's shoe in Delhi, 2013. Photo: Getty
A day spent sole-searching affords me an unlikely victory
By Nicholas Lezard - 12 June 10:00

My motto, when it comes to buying shoes, is “as rarely as possible”. A shoe will have to be hanging off my foot and making flapping noises as I walk before I buy another one. 

Poland's Kamil Majchrzak serves against US player Noah Rubin at Wimbledon 2014. Photo: Getty
Ballet on Centre Court: how modern tennis fuses strength and grace
By Ed Smith - 12 June 10:00

Tennis has not become ugly. It has got more beautiful. Professionalisation did not ruin its balletic strand; it deepened it. The ultimate athletes turned out to be lighter, leaner and more mobile.

Limits of reason: in William Blake's Newton, the great man shows his blindness to the natural world around him. Image: Bettman/Corbis
John Gray: “Humanity is a figment of the imagination”
By John Gray - 12 June 10:00

If you cannot conceive of humanity from an area of knowledge outside science, what reason could there be for thinking that one and only one system of values is peculiarly human? 

The 1982 Brazil World Cup side in action against Argentina. Photo: Getty
Why football loves beautiful losers
By Oliver Farry - 11 June 14:19

Sport’s love affair with the myth of thwarted victory.

Performers onstage during Terry Gilliam's production of Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" at the English National Opera. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Classical music has a serious communication problem
By Andrew Mellor - 11 June 11:02

Until state-funded arts organisations like the Royal Opera House can advertise their work to people who don’t already love their art form, they will never attract broader audiences.

Disco love: young lovers at the Hammersmith Palais. Photo: Rex Features
Teenage kicks all through their life: why men avoid growing up
By John Burnside - 11 June 9:30

A boy gets to play; a man doesn’t, at least not officially. A man is obliged to act out the part scripted for him, all the while pretending that there’s something fulfilling in being promoted.

Cartoon feminists: Sally Heathcote and Woman Rebel
By Yo Zushi - 10 June 15:14

Two recent graphic novels tackle subjects from feminist history. 

Photo: YouTube screengrab of Rik Mayall's Noble England
Whistles, reggae, samba and Henry V: England’s official 2014 World Cup song candidates
By Anoosh Chakelian - 10 June 15:02

Gary Barlow’s been quietly ditched. The Monty Python members have mobilised. Lily Allen is ubiquitous. The late Rik Mayall takes his last stand. Here are the best and the rest of England’s options for its World Cup anthem.

Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter films. Image: Warner Bros
Tax breaks for “Britishness” mean we’re exporting a vision of a nation that no longer exists
By Edward Smith - 10 June 11:28

The likes of Sherlock, Doctor Who and Downton Abbey are the UK’s most exported TV shows. They ensure that the image of Britain we project worldwide bears very little relation to the country as it is now.

Rik Mayall. Photo: Getty
Actor, comedian and Young Ones star Rik Mayall has died, aged 56
By Anoosh Chakelian - 09 June 16:50

The iconic comedian has passed away.

The cast of “Orange is the New Black”. Image: Netflix
Caring about Orange is the New Black’s characters will help you past difficult times in series two
By Jenny Landreth - 09 June 15:24

At times clunkily written and contrived, the second series of Netflix’s original drama redeems itself through the depth and variety of its characters.

A still from Spec Ops: The Line.
Why is it so appealing to play as a terrorist in video games?
By Phil Hartup - 06 June 16:10

In real life, we abhor terrorism and everything associated with it. So why do so many games manage to convince us that playing at it is fun?

In the Frame: Spelunking in the mind of Nick Clegg
By Tom Humberstone - 06 June 13:47

Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic.

Fruitvale Station.
Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station: A hagiography shot on shaky cam
By Ryan Gilbey - 06 June 12:00

Fruitvale Station imagines the last day of Oscar Grant's life - a young black American shot dead by a police officer in 2009. The film may be rooted in truth, but it's a long way from documentary.

A Very British Airline.
A Very British Airline on BBC2: Lobsters in the sky with doughnuts
By Rachel Cooke - 06 June 11:30

From the new "bespoke" wardrobes installed in BA's A380s to the recommendation cabin crew do not stow dead bodies in the loo, Rachel Cooke is transfixed by the BBC's bizarre new documentary series.

Girls to the front: why we need more women-friendly gigs
By Beulah Devaney - 06 June 11:05

It's time for gigs to take women's safety seriously, in a world where audience members and performers are routinely assaulted.

Polly Stenham.
Mark Lawson: schools may soon be studying the plays of Polly Stenham
By Mark Lawson - 06 June 11:00

In musical terms, the second album is a crucial test. For 27-year-old Polly Stenham, it is her fourth play, Hotel, which opens this week at the National Theatre, that will make or break her career.

The Voice.
Tracey Thorn: one round in today’s TV talent shows and I’d have been back in the library
By Tracey Thorn - 06 June 10:30

These shows can be harsh and cruel, but they are merely a microcosm of the world – a swift introduction to the realities of a career as a performer.

Keith Douglas: soldier-poet of the desert and the Second World War
By Adrian Smith - 06 June 9:01

In exposing the unchivalric side of WWII, Keith Douglas was the heir to Siegfried Sassoon.

Robin Hood and his outlaw band in an 18th-century engraving. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Robin Hood: Henry VIII’s hero in green tights
By Amy Licence - 05 June 16:44

Dressing up as the medieval social justice warrior was among the young king’s favourite pastimes, and gave him a taste for a kind of role-reversal that was mirrored in his own court.

Bruce Springsteen in concert.
Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA at 30: soundtrack to my life
By Max Liu - 05 June 12:36

Bruce Springsteen's 1984 album Born in the USA is 30 years old this week. It has been the soundtrack to Max Liu's life, from the end of his parents' marriage to the beginning of his own.

Acres of oilseed rape in flower amid the limestone hills of Yunnan, southern China. Photo: George Steinmetz/Corbis
There is nothing very lovely about oilseed rape
By John Burnside - 05 June 12:32

Don’t be fooled by its seas of scented acid-yellow blooms, the plant otherwise known as canola is one of the world’s most unethical crops.

Na-na-na, can't hear you: wife or husband does not always mean the wind beneath my wings. Photo: Getty
To cheer myself up, I think of other people’s dreadful marriages
By Nicholas Lezard - 05 June 12:25

When I encounter the words “my wife” or “my husband”, I get, in some dark moods, a choking sensation beneath the breastbone.

Stuck in time: Hobart, Tasmania pictured in the 1950s. Photo: Getty
Tasmania, the island with a shameful past and a hopeful future
By Philip Hoare - 05 June 10:00

Australia’s timewarp island was the setting for atrocities against Aborigines in the 19th century and has a harsh treatment of asylum seekers today. Yet many see Australia as a liberal hope for the future. 

Don't cry for me: Elaine Paige in full flow performing a song from Evita at the 2012 Olivier awards. Photo: Getty
The day Elaine Paige went quiet
By Antonia Quirke - 05 June 10:00

She had you longing for the days when she would just pipe up, laughing dementedly, or refer to herself in the third person.

Tycoon tower: the 27-storey Antilia, Mumbai residence of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, has come to symbolise Indian wealth disparity. Photo: Getty
Slumdog billionaires: the rise of India’s tycoons
By James Crabtree - 05 June 10:00

New non-fiction books by the novelists Arundhati Roy and Rana Dasgupta examine India’s troubled relationship with capitalism and the blurred links between political and business elites. 

Feed the world: Live Aid 1985, which Mark Ellen helped present. Photo: Getty
Mark Ellen: a big bad love affair with music mags
By Andrew Harrison - 05 June 10:00

Mark Ellen changed the face of music magazines with Smash Hits, Q, SelectMojo and finally The Word. His memoir is as “hectic, self-deprecating, quietly perceptive” as the man himself.