The Resurrection Slot:

My ‘Dodgy Dossier’

July 29th, 2003 | Articles General, Kulchur, Potemkinism and Camouflage, The Resurrection Slot

‘You can stress the community of the nation state without diminishing your internationalism’. I was, I suppose, quite pleased to have elicited that statement from Tony Blair. Yet I was also troubled. I had been invited to quote those words as Tony’s heartfelt own yet I had never met the man, never written to him, and never talked to him on the phone either. . .Download this article (PDF) »

Enthusiasms & Aversions:

Alan Yentob’s ‘Imagine’ or ‘Take this man off the telly’

July 2nd, 2003 | Articles General, Aversions, Kulchur

One day in June 2003, the arts editor of the Guardian asked me to review the first three films in BBC1’s new arts strand ‘Imagine’. I watched them in dismay and wrote this piece. It was published on 2 July 2003. For the BBC’s reaction see ‘Who are you…’ under ‘Conversations with Patrick Wright’, pp. 26-8. Read article here»

Zaha Hadid in Cincinnati

June 6th, 2003 | Art & its applications, Articles General, Enthusiasms


 On the opening of Zaha Hadid’s Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio. Published as ‘Look what I built’, the Guardian, 2 July 2003, pp. 12-13. Read article here»

Mrs. Daphne Buxton creates twentieth century England’s first new common

September 2nd, 1995 | Articles General, Englishness and British national identity, Enthusiasms

Rushall is a small Norfolk village, not far from a somewhat larger settlement named Dickleburgh. It has a church, some council housing built at a polite distance from the village proper, a few farms and a pub. There were airships here once, but today Rushall’s most historic site is a hedged meadow on the other side of the parish.

Beyond the wooden gate, which bears a notice about the village fete, an elderly lady is walking through long grass, pointing out various features as she goes. The man next to her stoops occasionally to pick up twigs, which he then holds in a curious, vaguely anthropological manner…

Download full text (PDF)»

On the United Nations Association

July 1st, 1995 | Articles General, Enthusiasms, War & peace

THE United Nations is not in good shape. Great hopes were entertained when the Berlin wall came down in 1989, but these have given way to global half-heartedness, evident in the caveats hedging tributes paid this week in San Francisco, where the UN Charter was signed 50 years ago.

The genocide in Rwanda contributed to this disillusionment – as did the impotent UNPROFOR tanks of Sarajevo, already called beached white whales several years before the Bosnian Serbs purloined some, thereby completing the humiliation. From Angola to Chechenia, the news mocks the UN’s pastoral symbolism of white doves crowding the sky…
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This England: The Stain on St George’s Flag

August 18th, 1993 | Articles General, Aversions, Englishness and British national identity

‘Lord Taylor of Warwick’ is in trouble over his expenses,  but what about this disgraced house-flipper’s claim to have fought racism in the course of his parliamentary career?   Something nasty was certainly going on when he contested Cheltenham for the Tories in the early 1990s, as is revealed in this article – first published in the Guardian, 18 August 1993.

 “YOU CAN walk into any branch of W H Smith and pick up a copy of This England. Launched from Grimsby in 1968, this ‘quarterly reflection of English Life’ has moved to Cheltenham and done well for Roy Faiers, its founder and editor.

The starting impulse was proudly provincial. As the publisher of six county magazines, Faiers reckoned that the time was right to project the same values at a national level. Convinced that parochialism was a virtue, he hoisted the flag of St George in his first issues: ‘Instead of politics, we shall bring you the poetry of the English countryside . . . Instead of bigotry, we shall portray the beauty of our towns and villages’”…

Download full article (PDF)»

News & Previews:

“A Secret Life: Uwe Johnson in Sheerness”

This 45 minute radio documentary was broadcast as the Sunday Feature on Radio Three is the first outward expression of work I have been doing with the American translator Damion Searls over the last couple of years.  It was broadcast on 19 April 2015.



Shrinking England? A Conversation with Will Self, 23 October 2012

Part of the Arts & Humanities Festival at King’s College London, this event is free, but places are limited to 250, Will’s new novel Umbrella is now shortlisted for the Booker, and booking is essential. Details

The Small Society: What Happens when England Shrinks?

We’ve heard a lot about the “Big Society” in recent years. Yet for centuries some of England’s most ardent defenders have been following the example of Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt, who famously praised England as a “little world” threatened by change and, perhaps, dissolution too…. I’ll be giving a lecture on this tendency towards miniaturisation on October 25th. It’s a public event organised as part of the Arts & Humanities Festival at King’s College London. It’s free but booking is necessary. Details

Iron Curtain on the Strand – a lecture about the London origins of a political metaphor that divided the world.

At 6.15pm on 5 December, I will be talking about the early history of the Iron Curtain, referring to both the Drury Lane Theatre and the Temple Church, just south of Fleet Street, as key locations in a forgotten drama. I will also be suggesting that the recovery of this early history, wholly forgotten in post-1946 understanding, represents a serious contribution to undertstanding international affairs as they have developed since the fall of the Berlin Wall – widely seen, by Blair, Bush, Rumsfeld and others, as the end of the story.

The event is at King’s College, on the Strand, and is organised as part of the “Strandlives” project. It’s free. but you are asked to RSVP at the address given on the poster or link.

Passport to Peking in the New Republic

Read Dominic Sandbrook’s review here»

A whole chapter on Ellis Smith in Moscow?


Michael Rank reviews Passport to Peking in Asia Times»  As for Ellis Smith, seen above with Barbara Castle in Novosibirsk as they passed through in October 1954, well, I wondered too…   But there was something about Salford’s  slow-minded and exasperating  “champion of the north”, and it stopped me from cutting him out altogether.  His rambling speeches made everyone cringe, and not just because he kept praising Stalin and going on about the day, in 1927, when he saw a protesting Leon Trotsky chased out of Moscow’s Red Square by that rising “man of steel’s”  bruisers. History is cruel, and hindsight even worse, but  there will always be room for a loser or two in my books.  And anyway, as Sam Hynes  asks from Princeton, “where else but in England would you find such an innocent radical?”

Passport to Peking: a Very British Mission to Mao’s China


‘Is there a house of history to stand as neighbour beside Henry James’s house of fiction? If there is, Patrick Wright will have a window all to himself, glittering with different, intense and jewelled fragments: a John Piper or Robert Colquhoun of a window.’ (Fred Inglis, the Independent»)

”As ever with Wright’s work the sheer density of thought, allusion and fact is staggering – but what is more amazing is the deftness with which he spins from this a gossamer and entrancing narrative thread.’  (Will Self)

‘An exuberantly rich chronicle teeming with personalities, stories, encounters and ideas, filled with the strangeness and wonder of colliding worlds…’ (David Hayes, Books of the Year, Australian Policy Online)

 ‘An impressive and unusual book… that succeeds by presenting a wonderful cast of characters set in a dimly remembered period… ‘  (Jonathan Fenby, Literary Review»)

A brilliant feat of research…The result is a tour de force, erudite, funny, endlessly revealing and generously illustrated. (John Keay, Times Literary Supplement )

Published by Oxford University Press, 27 October 2010. See my Guardian article»   Isobel Hilton in History Today» Pankaj Mishra in the New Yorker»

On English vision and the ground beneath Llewelyn Powys’s feet, Hand Hotel, Llangollen, 21 August 2011

   I’ll be speaking at the annual conference of the  Powys Society, revisiting some of the themes of The Village that Died for England.  Details, which are still in the process of formation, can be found here»

Recently added:

Devastation near Faversham – a review of Brian Dillon’s “The Great Explosion” »

July 8th, 2015

Open this book at random and you might imagine it to be another example of the new nature writing. Dillon makes generous concessions to the genre, and not just in his description of the explosive ripples caused by a darting insect known as the pond-skater (helpfully identified as Gerris lacustri). Yet a stricter naturalist may still wonder when he lists so general a creature as “the woodpecker” among the birds to be found at the watery woodside to which he has brought us. Who is this unexpected guide, standing there with his old three-speed bicycle and an equally archaic Rolleiflex camera in his hand? …

The Piano Man – no ordinary scrounger »

May 6th, 2015

Shortly after midnight on April 7, 2005, a young blond-haired man wearing a dark suit and white shirt was found wandering, dripping wet and distressed near a beach at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey in North Kent…

“I can’t help it if I’m lucky” »

January 18th, 2013

From “Of Cabbages and Kings”, Journal of King’s English Literary Society” (King’s College London), Issue 6, December 2012.

“Isles of Wonder” – some thoughts on the Little World of the London Olympics »

June 28th, 2012

Publication of the first images of the set for Danny Boyle’s opening extravaganza for the Olympics prompted me to write this article for Our Kingdom, published on 22 June 2012.

“To Dispel a Great Malady: Robinson in Ruins, the Future of Landscape and the Moving Image »

May 11th, 2012

This article, co-written with Stephen Daniels, Patrick Keiller, Doreen Massey and Anderew Flintham, describes a collaborative project conducted under the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s “Landscape and Environment” programme. It was published in Tate Papers 17 on 11 May 2012. The main outcome was Keiller’s film “Robinson in Ruins”. For more information see here…

Art historian, wild mushroom hunter, curator, bee-keeper, independent film-maker – a few otherwise lost words about Timothy Neat: »

October 22nd, 2011

I spent part of last summer writing a long review of Timothy Neat’s two volume biography of Hamish Henderson, the poet and campaigner who made such a profound contribution to the Scottish folk revival in the 1950s and 1960s. The review appears in the London Review of Books, issue dated 3 November 2011.

Emanuel Litvinoff (5 May 1915 – 24 September 2011) »

October 5th, 2011

I think it was in 1992 that I first met Emanuel Litvinoff. I had for some time been aware of his marvellous memoir of Jewish Whitechapel, Journey Through a Small Planet (1972), but I had never found a way of including a discussion of it in the book I was writing about East London at […]

How to Hide – a conversation on Resonance FM’s “The Thread” »

March 22nd, 2011

“The Thread” is a series of discussions run by the London Consortium on Resonance 104.4fm. This programme, entitled “How to Hide” and broadcast on 22 March, was presented by James Wilkes and took the form of a conversation with Sophie Nield, Synnove Fredericks and myself – about camouflage and related matters.

On Living in a World of Facades: from Prince Potemkin’s villages to the Berlin Wall, Iraq and the Truman Show »

February 11th, 2011

A public lecture delivered at the Architectural Association in London on 8 February 2011.

“On the Continent the waiters have red hair” – Failures of the Modern ‘Discovery Mission’ »

January 9th, 2011

Another reflection on the western travellers who crossed the Iron and Bamboo Curtains . . .