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James Evershed Agate

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James Evershed Agate

by Felix H. Man
bromide print, 1939
11 1/8 in. x 8 1/8 in. (284 mm x 206 mm) image size
Given by Felix H. Man (Hans Baumann), 1977
Photographs Collection
NPG x1148

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  • Clerk, Honor, The Sitwells, 1994 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 14 October - 22 January 1995), p. 182 Read entry

    In the nine-volume, decade-long sweep of Ego, the diaries of the Sunday Times theatre critic James Agate (1877-1947), there is little indication of the causus belli that led Edith to fulminate that she was ‘so furious with Agate that I shall certainly cut him dead under circumstances of the greatest ignominy, for him’.1 Though he had written that there was ‘something self-satisfied and having-to-do-with-the-Bourbons’2 about Osbert, Agate was on dining terms with both Osbert and Edith until the middle years of the Second World War and often quotes Osbert admiringly in his diaries. The breach came with Osbert’s anti-war tract, A Letter to My Son, published in Horizon in March 1943 and issued as a booklet by Home and Van Thal the following year. It was, on the whole, a courageous pacifist manifesto, but injudiciously Osbert made a case for an artistic élite. ‘If, in states vowed to death and to fights without a finish, the lot of everyman is, of course, hard, that of the artist is especially abominable. Here, unless some special status is allowed him, as elsewhere, it will mean, in fact, that he becomes a helot’. 3 It was a sentiment roundly demolished by Agate in the Daily Express, leading Edith to the bizarre conclusion that Osbert’s ‘simple character’ had laid him open to Agate’s ‘dirty actions’. Agate was invited by publishers of A Letter to My Son to expand on his position in another pamphlet, and duly produced Noblesse Oblige: Another Letter to Another Son (1944). The indomitable Agate, displayed in all his rotund urbanity by Felix Man, was in many respects the acme of the philistine Osbert had always despised. He continued to mete out praise and criticism of Osbert’s work, predicting that Left Hand Right Hand! would lead to ‘a storehouse of delight’ but lamenting that Piper’s illustrations had ‘the air of a cross between Vlamynck … and for the last shot in the film of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.’4

    1 Quoted in John Pearson, Façades, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, 1978, p 376.

    2 J. Agate, Ego I, 1935, p 162.

    3 Osbert Sitwell, A Letter to My Son, 1944, p 19.

    4 J. Agate, Ego VIII, 1946, p 67.

Events of 1939back to top

Current affairs

Britain goes to war. The German invasion of Poland demonstrated that the policy of appeasement had failed. After refusing to meet Britain's ultimatum to withdraw troops, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.

Art and science

The Sutton Hoo burial ship is discovered. Apparently following a dream, Mrs Pretty invited the archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate a series of burial mounds on her estate on the banks of the river Deben in Suffolk. The excavation revealed an Anglo-Saxon burial, uncovering the most significant horde of early medieval artefacts found in Britain (now housed at the British Museum).


The Second World War begins. Germany's invasion of Poland prompted Britain and France to declare war forming the core of the Allied powers. As part of the Soviet-Nazi Pact, the Soviet Union joined the war on the German side, helping, with Italy, to form the Axis Powers. Poland was soon overpowered and the Baltic Republics and Finland were invaded by the Soviet Union.

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