He’ll Never Get Rich: The Phil Silvers Show

In which I confess my love for a finagling master sergeant.

Vulpes Libris

Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko with Paul Ford as Col. Hall. Via Wikipedia Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko with Paul Ford as Col. Hall. Via Wikipedia

I first saw an episode of The Phil Silvers Show, Nat Hiken’s 1950s army comedy, twenty years ago when it was still shown regularly on BBC Two. The episode was Cherokee Ernie, in which Phil Silvers’ scheming Sgt. Bilko sets out to play poker in Tulsa and ends up in a legal stramash of such magnitude that Oklahoma is very nearly returned to the Native Americans. I don’t need to tell you that it’s a difficult episode in lots of ways. But it was the start of a love affair that’s still going. I watched the rest of Bilko just as the BBC intended—in the wrong order and on a loop—and then on VHS, with a great box of tapes which I lugged with me to University and back. And then the BBC stopped showing…

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In conversation with Brendan Walsh, literary editor, The Tablet

My interview with Brendan Walsh, literary editor at The Tablet, on Vulpes Libris today. He’s a good sport, is Brendan.

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Brendan Walsh (photo by Laura Keynes)

I have been reviewing books for The Tablet – Britain’s second oldest weekly paper, and a Catholic literary institution – since 2013. As a newcomer in every sense, I continue to be struck by the paper’s impressive combination of a cohesive theological identity and a refusal to follow a single editorial line. The Tablet is forever arguing, even with itself: an irresistible quality. My editor, Brendan Walsh, kindly agreed to answer a few questions and provide an insight into the interior world of The Tablet, in the books pages and beyond. – Kirsty Jane McCluskey

What does a literary editor do, exactly?

​If you’d have asked me five years ago, I would have explained that literary editors were an idle shower of chancers and poseurs, who sen​d​ books published by their cronies ​at one of the big publishing conglomorates ​ and ​written by ​one…

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Here’s Looking at You: a conversation about Casablanca

Enthusing about Casablanca.

Vulpes Libris

CasablancaPoster-GoldOnce upon a time, entirely by accident and when they were discussing something completely different (like Father Ted), Bookfoxes Kirsty and Moira discovered that they had a shared love of the 1942 film classic, Casablanca. After chatting away for several minutes, it occurred to them that it would make a jolly good subject for a VL piece. So, a couple of days ago, they sat down and made a proper job of it … revealing, in the process, rather more about themselves and their several strange passions than they probably intended.

We join them as they settle down for a good natter, with As Time Goes By playing softly, somewhere in the background …

Kirsty Jane McCluskey (feeling rather intimidated by the scale of the thing): How shall we start?

Moira Briggs: Why don’t we start with how less is more? The first—and really major—thing that struck me about Casablanca

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The Nail, by Stephen Cottrell

My review of Stephen Cottrell’s The Nail, with some mention of Walking Backwards to Christmas, on VL today.

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imageI first became aware of Stephen Cottrell as a writer (rather than as the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford) late last year, when I reviewed his Advent book, Walking Backwards to Christmas, for The Tablet. Walking Backwards is a stunning book: a collection of short, punchy narratives around the Nativity, from the prophetess Anna in the temple all the way back to Moses and the burning bush. It is always compelling, often disturbing and sometimes, intensely, distressing. (“For there is another child,” says Rachel, whose baby boy lies cradled in the hands of a murderous soldier. “And I have heard of this other child. He is danger and threat to my child. … A new king born in Bethlehem, just as the prophets had said. And Herod’s pride erupted. His anger kindled. And when he cries little children die in the streets.”)

The book troubled me to such an…

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Walking with the saints: an interview with the Revd Richard Coles

My interview with the Revd Richard Coles is up on Project SJ now. It was tremendous fun to do, and he has some very candid and interesting things to say about the Catholic church, the Society of Jesus, and his personal path.

Project SJ

fathomlessIn his riveting autobiography Fathomless Riches (review here), pop star turned Catholic convert turned Anglican priest Richard Coles happens to mention, briefly and in the midst of it all, the fact that he once attended a vocations weekend with the Jesuits at Campion House, Osterley Park. Naturally, I couldn’t let this pass unexamined. I wrote off to Fr Richard with a plea to hear more of the story, and he kindly set aside time to meet with me in London and tell me all about it.

Perhaps you could start by telling me more about that vocations weekend at Osterley Park?

Like most people of my temperament and background, if you’re floating around the Roman Catholic Church, I think that sooner or later the call of the Jesuits will sound. Quite a lot of the stuff I read, I found I was reading Jesuits. And there’s a particular affinity between…

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H is for Horse

A little (true) story in response to Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk.

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I called her. I had lost hope in her coming but I called her all the same. And she flew to me. She flew like a promise finally kept. She raced towards me, wings flickering across fifty yards of flint-strewn earth, hit the glove and stayed. I gave her back to Stuart and called her again. Three times she flew to my fist the whole length of the creance with total conviction. There was no hesitation, no faltering. The hawk flew to me as if I were home. – from Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk. Hilary’s review is here.


In the paddock at the bottom of the hill, within sight of the outdoor school, a kerfuffle begins. Horses charge along the fence, ears pinned, indignant. I see them a split second before Maggie does.

Don’t panic.

Maggie sees them. She tosses her head and surges on; I close my…

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Faith, Seriously: The Ethics of Everyday Life, by Michael Banner

Approaching Michael Banner’s new approach to Christian ethics on VL today.

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bannerLike much of the really exciting theology I’ve read this year (Rowan Williams’ Meeting God in Mark, or Hugh Gilbert OSB’s The Tale of Quisquis), The Ethics of Everyday Life is not a monograph, but a collection. In 2013, the theologian and ethicist Michael Banner gave the Oxford University Bampton Lectures, in which he argued that, when it comes to the low-key decision-making of day-to-day life, Christian ethics as it stands is simply not fit for purpose. These lectures represent a first attempt by Banner at constructing a new sort of ethics informed by social anthropology and centred on the life of Christ, and they are reproduced here more or less as is, with a neat but unobtrusive critical framework.

Lecture transcripts are often less accessible to the general reader simply because those who turn up to hear them in the first place can reasonably be assumed…

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