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Writer and philosopher whose work, beginning with ‘The Outsider’, searched for the meaning of man’s existence

OPERA / Wagner for beginners: As Covent Garden gets a new 'Ring', Michael White introduces the most daunting of operas

RICHARD WAGNER (1813-1883) dominates modern culture like no other artist in any discipline. W H Auden reckoned him 'the greatest genius that ever lived'. Thomas Mann thought that nothing in the annals of creativity compared with the Wagner operas, apart from 'a few Gothic cathedrals'. And if Wagner is all superlatives - the mightiest, grandest, longest, loudest - the superlatives pile to their dizziest heights on the Ring cycle (1853-74), which is the biggest thing an opera house can undertake, and the most daunting prospect an opera-goer has to face: 15 hours of music spread across four nights with the instalments getting longer as they go. By the fourth night, when you've already clocked up Das Rheingold, Die Walkure and Siegfried, you arrive for what is probably the 4.30pm start of Gotterdammerung knowing that Act I alone is longer than Boheme or Tosca and you won't be out before 11. This is not an evening to round off a hard day at the office.

Jesus beats Marx for Labour politicians

THE BIBLE has overtaken Karl Marx in the affections of Labour MPs. According to a new survey, Tony Blair's emphasis on 'ethical socialism' is not just a public relations stunt: in sharp contrast to their predecessors in the Seventies, the Labour MPs of the Nineties have been influenced more by the Bible than by Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto.

Glossary: Look out, he's a bit of a personality

KELVIN MacKENZIE's explanation that he was leaving BSkyB because of a 'personality clash' moved only seven-eighths of the way towards absolute candour.

THEATRE ROUND UP / Passion plays

When David Mamet tried to write about feminism, he lost his cool completely and turned into a snarling reactionary; in the gentle ambience of the Richmond Theatre, Rod Beacham takes us on a subversive journey of sexual discovery and female emancipation. It's a bloodless revolution.

TELEVISION / Long Runners: No 31: Desert Island Discs

Age: 52. It started in 1942. The first castaway was the comedian Vic Oliver.

Hanging on to childhood

THERE can't be many people in Britain who don't know about the Save the Children Fund. It has the kind of patron every charity must pray for in the Princess Royal, and its advertising campaigns are both extensive and insistent. When it comes to finding attention-grabbing pictures for their campaigns, charities are just as competitive as commercial companies. Compassion fatigue is a visual complaint as well as an economic one, and charities are always searching for new images which will get their message across. Later this month, it will be 75 years since Eglantyne Jebb, a philanthropic late-Victorian with a degree from Lady Margaret Hall (class of 1895) and a firm belief in women's suffrage, launched the Save the Children Fund with her sister Dorothy Buxton. Their appeal at the Royal Albert Hall on 19 May 1919 was for money to help starving refugees in Europe after the First World War. They were criticised for nurturing 'children of the enemy'. Even now SCF likes to quote George Bernard Shaw's defence: 'I have no enemies under seven.'

THEATRE / A question of class: Paul Taylor on Josie Lawrence in Pip Broughton's production of Pygmalion at the Nottingham Playhouse

The pulling power of television-comedy stars and pop singers has not been lost on Nottingham Playhouse during the artistic directorship of Pip Broughton. Remember The Pocket Dream, which gave impro-merchants Mike McShane and Sandi Toskvig the chance to brush-up and bash up their Shakespeare in a show where A Midsummer Night's Dream featured as an amusingly shambolic play-within-the-play performed by hapless amateurs? Or Tony Slattery, bravely italicising the rebarbative clever- dick side of his persona as the sarcastic, bumptious nihilist in Neville's Island? or Toyah Wilcox going classical on Therese Raquin?

Virago founder looks to Labour: Carmen Callil leaves publishing to take up politics

CARMEN CALLIL, one of Britain's most successful publishers, and co-founder of the feminist publishing house Virago, may bring her talents to the Labour Party after deciding to leave publishing for good.

A rewarding challenge for employers

Much has been written in recent months on the question of whether rewards can really motivate employees. Leading academics, such as Alfie Kohn writing in the Harvard Business Review, argue that performance incentives inevitably degrade employees by focusing attention on the reward.

MUSIC / Where words fail: In the light of a new series of concert handbooks, Bayan Northcott asks to what extent words can ever explain music

In September 1957, listeners to the BBC Third Programme were treated to a curious performance of Mozart's String Quartet in D minor, K421. For between its actual movements, the Aeolian String Quartet proceeded to interpolate a kind of composed commentary - juxtaposing apparently unrelated ideas from different parts of the work; gradually transforming one thematic shape into another, and so on - by that provocative young critic, teacher and theorist, Hans Keller.

Fast footwork by a cool witness

WHEN SOMEONE looks unflappable, their demeanour calm and relaxed, always keep a weather eye on the feet. Yesterday, under the chief witness's table, the Prime Minister's pedal extremities were given to some frenetic tapping.

Losing sight of the true Tory crusade: 'Back to basics' always was about sex and morality. How else could the permissive society be tackled, asks Edward Leigh

JOHN MAJOR has a sense of humour and he must laugh at the cartoons of him dressed as a Y-fronted superman. The cartoons and this week's events remind me of what George Bernard Shaw wrote in Man and Superman, that 'an Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable'.

BOOK REVIEW / Quite a lot to answer for: The Penguin book of interviews - ed Christopher Silvester, pounds 18.99

IN THE introduction to his recent collection of essays, Martin Amis proposes that 'the star interview is dead' - robbed of any credibility or bite by the expert strategems of celebrity marketing: 'The great post-modern celebrities are a part of their publicity machines and that is all you are ever going to write about: their publicity machines. You review the publicity machine.'

TELEVISION / Down, out and deprived of redemption

'SAFE', last night's Screenplay (BBC 1), was the most sustained passage of misery to cross our screens for many years. It was like getting into a fight with a drunk: a bruising, frightening scuffle that moved too fast and wouldn't stop for explanations or defence; and when it finished and Billy Bragg's doleful ballad sent you packing with a flea in your ear the best you could manage was to let your breath out in a long, exhausted sigh. It was simply horrible, and there were no consolations.

Shaw bequest

Money left to the British Library by the playwright George Bernard Shaw has not reached its proper destination, Labour protested. The party's national heritage spokeswoman, Ann Clwyd, claimed that most of the money he bequeathed had gone to the British Museum.
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Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
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The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
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Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
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Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
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Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
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An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
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Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
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Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
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A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
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How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
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Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own