Remainders of the day

Betjeman family scorn spying claim read the headlines this week, in response to the recent startling news that Sir John Betjeman, the former Poet Laureate, was once a spy for the British Colonial Office while working in Dublin during the Second World War, according to his biographer, Bevis Hillier. Could such things be? Could the national teddy bear really have been mixed up in espionage? More to the point, can biographers rely on the reading public's apparently limitless capacity to believe 20 unimaginable things before lunch? One thing is clear: there's more of it to come. The Independent has gained privileged access to a number of new revisionist works en route to the remaindered bookshops, and offers a sneak preview of the newspaper articles that will greet them

Kelly Brook `master criminal' sensation

The buxom and apparently clueless co-presenter of The Big Breakfast was the brains behind a secret ring of international agents, working to destabilise Western democracies through a network of devastatingly complicated encryption codes, according to a controversial new biography by Tony Parsons. "We're not dealing with any common-or-garden evil genius here," Sir Crispin Hodges, head of M15, reportedly tells Parsons. "She is the Josephine of crime. Ruthless. Hyperarticulate. An alpha brain. Speaks 12 languages, from Slav to Sanskrit. It took ages to rumble what she was up to on the breakfast show. Every time she appeared to mangle her words or lose her place in the script, she was sending signals to ruthless operatives in Kurdistan and the Basque region. When she pronounced `intrepid' as `interpid' on live television, or said `I'd love to take a holiday but nobody will give me one', whole platoons of agents sprang into action, from Galway to Minsk." Brook, who is temporarily suspended from Channel 4 pending an internal investigation, is said to be "not bothered" by the uproar, and is planning a documentary series on the legacy of Alan Turing.

Boris Yeltsin `was Headless Man' shock

The Russian President Boris Yeltsin, 68, was not a poor peasant from Butka, as Russian Federation records claim, but an aristocratic grandee from St Petersburg who, when young, spent several months a year travelling in the fleshpots of Europe, reveals a startling new biography by Tom Bower. In 1963, when allegedly working as Senior Project Superintendent in the Sverdlovsk region, he was in fact living in chambers at Albany, central London, indulging his love of theatre matinees, silk dressing-gowns and horse's neck cocktails. It was then that he met Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Their affair was short-lived, but a Polaroid photo taken in the mirror by Mr Yeltsin while having sex with the Duchess in 1963 caused a social scandal. "I don't remyembyer anythying about any Myargaret," a befuddled Yeltsin tells Bower, "but the myargaritas were fyantyastyic."

Holyfield `secretly white' shock

The American NBA world-champion boxer Evander Holyfield, once thought to be Afro-Caribbean, started life as a Caucasian, says an explosive biography by Hugh McIlvanney. He also appeared on the West End stage, dancing the role of Fairy Carabosse in a benefit for Dame Ninette de Valois. Holyfield was born Gervase ("Binky") Thrubshaw in Godalming, Surrey, attended the Miss Porter Dance Academy in Farnham, and was destined for a career as a principal dancer with Sadler's Wells. By the age of 15, however, an imbalance of melanin had darkened his skin and he began to receive unkind taunts and racial abuse. One day, according to McIlvanney, he retaliated to a hurtful remark from Julian "Beastly" Fotheringham with a punch on the nose, a dozen short jabs to the solar plexus, a left uppercut and haymaker right-cross, and an attempted ear-biting incident that was kept from the police only by the timely intervention of Sir Frederick Ashton. Thrubshaw's ballet career was over. His prospects of working in England were nil. His name was mud. So he changed it to Evander Holyfield, emigrated to Chicago and began working out in low-rent gymnasia as his skin grew darker and his hair fell out. A meeting with Don King brought fame and fortune. But, says McIlvanney, the former Binky Thrubshaw never forgot his first love. "If Ah could finish off Lewis," he growled to the author, "maybe they'd let me have a crack at Elite Syncopations."

Gallagher `strict vegan mystic'

Liam Gallagher led a double life for much of the Nineties, according to a searching new biography by Tom Paulin. He alternated drunken brawling with an impassioned search for inner truth and enlightenment. "It was all a bit of a performance, actually," the Oasis singer and hellraiser tells a dubious Paulin in chapter six. "I never took anything stronger than Haliborange tablets in my life, and my favourite tipple was Kaliber low-alcohol lager. But one had a certain reputation to keep up." Whenever possible, he would slip away from parties at Soho House and check in to the Theravada Buddhist Temple in Collier's Wood. "Basically, I was searching for a karmic resolution of my different levels of being," he tells a frankly sceptical Paulin in chapter nine. "I found it helpful to meditate on sounds and their relation to eternity, and see how long I could stretch out, say, the word shine into `sheeee-eyeeeeeeeeee-nnnnnn'. It was a very pure but intense experience. It put me closer in touch with my Inner Hooligan."

Widdecombe `former madam' shock

The shadow health spokesman Ann Widdecombe spied for Britain while living in Paris in 1968, according to a startling new biography by Andrew Morton. Dressed in torn fishnet stockings and a tight black skirt slashed to the thigh, Widdecombe was a familiar figure in the notorious Rue de St-Denis, an untipped Gauloise never far from her lips as she loitered in the doorway of the Quelque Chose de la Nuit niteclub. But, while pretending to run a house of ill-repute, she secretly observed the student revolutionaries who were erecting barricades in the street and throwing cobbles at the police in August that year. Widdecombe went to Paris as a mole for Scotland Yard but, following a passionate liaison with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, changed allegiances and tried to foment unrest back in London among the snoring ranks of the National Union of Students.

Sinatra `tone-deaf' probe

The late Frank Sinatra, perhaps the most popular singer of all time, never wanted to sing at all and was happier doing office work, says a gripping new biography by Sheridan Morley. Tone-deaf and unable to read music, he enjoyed a satisfying career as a junior executive in a Hoboken insurance company until he fell foul of Alberto "Bad Fella" Vitapointe, the unscrupulous gangland boss. An enthusiastic but luckless gambler, Sinatra ran up a $30,000 gambling debt in Vitapointe's casino and couldn't pay. The hood threatened to cut Sinatra's legs into slices and feed them to him in pumpernickel sandwiches. The insurance salesman had no collateral. Things were looking bad. But then he remembered that the Sicilian gangster had a sentimental attachment to Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me", so he sang it to him, in flat and quavering tones. With streaming eyes, Vitapointe offered him a contract to perform in the supper room until the debt was paid. Sinatra's voice improved and his rendition of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" led to his first recording. He never, says the author drily, touched pumpernickel again.

Einstein `could not do up shoelaces'

The most influential scientist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein suffered from a chronic inability to perform basic feats of manual dexterity, according to an outspoken biography by Melvyn Bragg. He could not pick up cups of tea, thread needles, comb his hair or play the piano, and never learnt to tie his shoelaces. His parents, thinking him educationally sub-normal, stopped trying to teach him after the age of four. Consequently, as he grew older his appearance became increasingly dishevelled. He was famous in the streets of Bern for his trailing laces and was followed everywhere by cries of: "Do them up or you'll trip over!" The book also solves the mystery of why Einstein was never awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on relativity. "All that fiddling with bow-ties drove me mad," he told a friend. "I couldn't stand the formality, standing on stage making speeches. Made me feel like an MC squared."

Hague once `interesting' claim stuns Westminster

The Leader of the Opposition, William Hague, long thought to be a byword in featureless anonymity, spent a brief period being "quite interesting", according to a sensational new biography by Amanda Platell. It was during a holiday in Snowdonia, after Mr Hague graduated from university but before he first stood for Parliament. "He did a lot of climbing and reading political philosophy and studying Welsh linguistics," writes Platell, "but a Mr and Mrs Humphries from north London, who were holidaying in Porthmadog at the time, met him in a pub and swear he was `really rather intriguing' for at least 20 minutes". Unfortunately, the subject about which Mr Hague was interesting remains a mystery.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil