Welcome to the second of our two fifth anniversary editions, which again contains a mixture of journalism and more academic articles. You will notice a new Photography section, for which Alexander Betts has written a review of a collection by German-English photographer John Gay that speaks to Gay's profound affection for his adopted country. Altogether more questioning is the work of Somerset native Tony Ray-Jones, who returned from a stint in America with a new perspective on his home. Jennifer Hodgson, interrogates his technique and aesthetics in her overview of his work; her Ray-Jones-inspired prom chairs are our 'cover' image for this edition.
The art section features an unusual combination: Blake and Banksy. Paul Flux is less than convinced by a reconstruction of the former's 1809 exhibition, but enthralled by the recent, anarchic Banksy versus Bristol Musuem, which sounds like tremendous fun.
There is plenty of literature and recent literary/cultural theory, with Imran Javaid Butt's theorised responses to Paul Newland's The Cultural Construction of London's East End and Simon Featherstone's Englishness, while Joe Kennedy evaluates the 2008 reissue of David Gervais's Literary Englands. I could hear the creaking sound of a point being stretched when I decided to include Stella Gibbons's delightful, effervescent Nightingale Wood in the 'recent books' section, but given its obscurity, it did not seem to fit in Classics of Englishness.
The second part of our Classics of Englishness feature embraces fantasy, working-class culture, and English humour. Peter Higgins turns his eerily perceptive gaze on Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood cycle, examining how it interacts with the folky seventies take on Englishness, and this is accompanied by my review of T H White's powerful and moving The Once and Future King. Jennifer Hodgson's critical examination of The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart was an opportunity for me to look at E P Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, a book which, though it was not recognised as a classic when it first appeared, has since become one. English humour comes in a number of different varieties. The kindly whimsicality that was its dominant pre-Pythons tone is satisfyingly captured by Helen Walasek's new Best of Punch Cartoons. Edgier variants are explored in Joe Kennedy's stylish look at Isherwood and Upward's gothic The Mortmere Stories, and in Paul Flux's insightful appreciation of Saki's short stories, which capture an undercurrent of unease amidst Edwardian sunshine.
The cinema section contains reviews of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and The Bed Sitting Room, two films which express totally different sides of the sixties: Richardson's sober-minded, compassionate social realist work contrasts with the brittle anarchy of Lester's post-nuclear fantasy.
In music, James Turner goes above and beyond the call of duty, reviewing the monumental Free Reed Revival re: Masters series (which contains gems from the likes of the late Peter Bellamy), in addition to his reviews of recent folk and rock releases. English classical music, as I noted when watching the televised Proms this year, seems to be enjoying a revival, and Em Marshall has been a very active part of this; here she reviews new CDs of music by well-known as well as more obscure English composers.
As this decade (the Noughties?) comes to a close, it is interesting to take stock. Ten years ago, there was still a pervasive sense that discussion of Englishness was to be avoided, and little mainstream attention was given to it. Things have certainly changed. Where once we used to scrabble to find books to review, we are now spoilt for choice. English music --whether folk or classical-- has never been more popular, and English dance crazes are the subject of new films on Morris-dancing (Morris: A Life with Bells On stars Sir Derek Jacobi) and Northern Soul (Souled Out). I could not have predicted the recent surge of interest in the English radical tradition, represented by an ITV drama about the Civil War period, David Horspool's new book The English Rebel, and the BFI's releases of the films Winstanley and Comrades—all of which is extraordinary, given how obscure this corner of English history used to be. Meanwhile Jerusalem, a new Royal Court play by Jez Butterworth, contrasts the older, wilder Englishness represented by a rural lord of misrule with the prim modern privet-hedge idyll of his neighbours: see David Nice's blog for a spine-tingling speech from the play. Local government is also getting involved: I was recently contacted by Basildon District Council about their new Wat Tyler Folk Festival, which takes place on the 5th of September and features Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick, and Martin Simpson, among others.
In all of these developments, there is an opening-up of perspective, an acceptance of the complexity and diversity of Englishness. What is more, it seems that this new Englishness (which, as Orwell would probably point out, is in fact the old) is here to stay.
On that optimistic note, I leave you. See you next decade!--The Editor