The best of British longform — 24 January 2016

The best stories we’ve read in the past fortnight — including Trident, tennis and national treasures

When we started The Queue, one of the biggest questions we asked was whether there would be enough reason for its existence.

Longform journalism has a stronger tradition in American media, and the number of outlets — magazines, newspapers and websites — producing narrative features is huge. Not all stories are worthy of highlighting, of course, but American counterparts have a broader range of stories from which they can select the best.

The well-reported, in-depth feature is a rarer beast in Britain. So we debated, firstly whether there was enough of an audience to justify collating the best British feature writing; and then how often we should highlight it. We hit on a bi-weekly publishing schedule, collecting the best writing here on Medium (though we tweet out stories daily, as and when they appear).

We thought there’d be five or six stories in each post. These past two weeks we’ve loved 13, which we share with you below.

And we won’t have all the best stories that’ve been written in the past fortnight here. We want your favourites: follow us @Queue_Reads and tweet us your suggestions, or email us at

Keep reading.

The Queue team (@olifranklin, @samparkercouk, @stokel, @banham_tom, @josephstash)

David Cameron’s adventures in Europe

George Parker and Alex Barker, The Financial Times, 22 January 2016

Image by UK in Latvia/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

David Cameron promised to stop banging on about Europe back in 2006, but finds himself trapped in a quangocratic nightmare over the European Union and Britain’s place in it. George Parker and Alex Barker figure out how Cameron got to his present position in this great tale.

14 years a fugitive: the hunt for Ratko Mladic, the Butcher of Bosnia

Julian Borger, The Guardian, 21 January 2016

The gripping story of how a Bosnian Serb general accused of killing thousands evaded capture for years by relying on a dwindling circle of friends, family and the Russian government — until he was finally caught and taken to the Hague.

Shhh… if you look carefully you will find a national treasure in his natural habitat

Simon Barnes, The Sunday Times Magazine, 17 January 2016 (£)

From his home library to time on-set at shoots for BBC documentaries, Simon Barnes spends time with David Attenborough, unpicking the mind of one of Britain’s most-recognised, but least well-known, national treasures.

How Zano Raised Millions on Kickstarter and Left Most Backers with Nothing

Mark Harris, Kickstarter/Medium, 18 January 2016

A post-mortem of a failed multi-million pound Kickstarter project commissioned by the crowdfunding site, Welshman Mark Harris carries out gumshoe journalism, peering through windows, poring through tax returns and winding-up notices, to try and figure out where mismanagement or something more mysterious saw backers plough cash into a project that never delivered.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder

Luke Harding, The Guardian, 19 January 2016

Image by Gwydion M Williams/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

Luke Harding has been thought of as a troublemaker for years by Russia, but his extraordinary retelling of the last moments of Alexander Litvinenko — and the way the ex-KGB officer pieced together the evidence behind his own poisoning on his deathbed — is fascinating reading.

Kevin Dawes: Searching for a missing American in Syria

James Harkin, British GQ, 15 January 2016

The internet is generally considered A Good Thing, allowing people to communicate freely across the world and to raise awareness of injustices. But it also makes it easier than ever before to do things that are out of most people’s reach. The internet gave Kevin Dawes a voice and a platform that took him to Syria — and he’s missing.

The quiet little London boy who became the world’s most wanted man

Robert Verkaik, The Sunday Times Magazine, 24 January 2016

Mohammed Emwazi was a normal person before he became Jihadi John, a sadistic killer. This extract from Verkaik’s book — published in the Sunday Times Magazine — explains how Emwazi made that journey from everyday Londoner to awful extremist.

The tube at a standstill: why TfL stopped people walking up escalators

Archie Bland, The Guardian, 16 January 2016

A typically wonkish British story about the minutiae of everyday life, this feature looks behind the scenes at the decisions that went into forcing commuters to stand still on a single escalator in a busy London Underground station.

The Tennis Racket

Heidi Blake, BuzzFeed News, 17 January 2016

Blake’s investigation with BuzzFeed US’s John Templon into the world of professional tennis, throwing up potential allegations of match-fixing, stirred debate — not for its shocking findings, which dominated the news agenda, but over what to define it as. (One Twitter follower thought it categorically was not narrative journalism.) A journalistic tradition in British publications of in-depth investigation, bolstered by lushly-drawn set pieces, makes this a must-read.

Inside the Eye: Nature’s Most Exquisite Creation

Ed Yong, National Geographic, 14 January 2016

Image by Eelco/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

How did our eyes evolve, and do all animals use them for the same purposes? This National Geographic feature delves into the way we see, and how that’s changed.

Trident is old technology’: the brave new world of cyber warfare

Julian Borger, The Guardian, 16 January 2016

Cyberwarfare in reality is rarely like the flashing screens and flash drives seen in Hollywood. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting, as Julian Borger finds out as he visits Nato when they practice their biggest ever cyberwarfare drill.

The Confessions of R. Kelly

Chris Heath, GQ Magazine, 20 January 2016

Celebrity profiles can be mundane, but R. Kelly is a character — and promised Chris Heath he’d speak without restrictions. Heath manages to unpick a lot of falsehoods, and find some incredible stories.

Katie Mitchell, British theatre’s queen in exile

Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, 16 January 2016

Charlotte Higgins meets a woman called Britain’s greatest living theatre director by some, and hated by others.