I liked this lot, particularly given the smoothness of the clues (almost) throughout, effortlessly throwing you off the track. I am fully aware that there are references in here, particularly to people from the arts (including the pugilistic ones) that might be more than a little fringe even for our erudite crew. There are not many Van Dykes I confidently know beyond Dick and the one who painted Charles 1, and while I completed the puzzle on hazy recollection and crossed fingers in some places, I had to look up the details for several artsy references. My time extended to 23.41, the SE corner producing most of the slower entries.
Including my garnered bits of knowledge, my workings are detailed below with clues, definitions and SOLUTIONS
1 Spectators not allowed to finish show off (4)
CROW The spectators are a CROWD, and the “not allowed to finish” is as long a way of saying “remove the last letter” as we’re ever likely to meet
3 Warning light on beach with delta, not a place you’d want to crash (10)
BEDCHAMBER The trick with this one is to recognise the definition starts at “place”. Now then, the warning light is AMBER, and BEACH (in plain sight) with D (delta, NATO) not A gives you the rest to place in front.
9 Somehow, I want a rook like a dove (7)
ANTIWAR “Somehow” telegraphs an anagram, so play around with I WANT A R(ook – chess) to get your not-hawk dove. I am led to believe that the gentleness of doves is something of a myth
11 Not exactly in the money around here (7)
LOCALLY After trying variations on Skid Row, I realised this no CD: not exactly is CA (circa, around about) which is placed in LOLLY, one of many informal terms for money
12 She puts herself out, forsaking uniform to meet the electorate? (5,3,5)
PRESS THE FLESH A phrase born out of the politician’s (usually mistaken) belief that people will vote for you if you crush their fingers. See also glad-handing. Here, it’s born out of realising “out” is an anagram indicator, the letters to be rejigged are SHE PUTS HERSELF, minus the NATO uniform U
14 Rude not to take home so many? (5)
GROSS I’m going to say this is a triple definition: rude, not to take home (the to is a bit iffy) – take home pay being your total earnings (gross) minus deductions, and so many, via “the sum total” (Chambers)
15 Failing that is description of Henry Van Dyke’s man? (9)
OTHERWISE Very TLS-ish. Henry Van Dyke wrote in 1895 a short(-ish) story about “the other wise man”, a fourth magus who missed out on visiting the infant Jesus. You can read it here on Gutenberg: it’s really rather charming. I suspect many will have their fingers crossed on this one: I know I did.
17 Commissioner from China, with NCO, visiting sultanate (9)
OMBUDSMAN Here’s my “as I write” working out: China is CRS for mate, hence BUD, the NCO is the S(ergeant) M(ajor) and the sultanate OMAN
The word is of Swedish origin, adopted in the UK in 1967 as the title for a kind of complaints official attached to various levels and functions of government. Now pretty much universal.
19 US athlete is in the red, lapping Pole (5)
OWENS The very great Jesse, star of the Berlin Olympics. “Is in the red” translates to OWES, insert the pole of your choice. Your humble and slightly embarrassed scribe admits to trying S first.
21 American: his first failure is sampling endless rounds (13)
MISSISSIPPIAN A rather decent &litish clue. You need the American’s first, A, round which you place failure: MISS, IS (in plain sight) and SIPPINg: sampling with its end missing.
24 Close to liquidation, fine to raid one’s capital (7)
NAIROBI Close to liquidation, just the N, fine gives you A1, raid supplies ROB and one (without the ‘s which here means is) gives - um - 1
25 Plant displayed by a large green stone (7)
ALECOST Otherwise costmary, balsam herb, bible leaf, or mint geranium. A L(arge), ECO: green, ST(one). Before hops, used for flavouring good ale.
26 Turn round diameter variable twice to find pi (5-5)
GOODY-GOODY It helps if you know pi is a (now antique) word, short for pious, meaning overly religious or sanctimonious: discussed before in these columns but perhaps forgotten. GO from (your) turn, O for round, D(iameter) and Y for variable. Then do it again. I liked the cod-mathematics here.
27 Tube empty when picked up (4)
VEIN Today’s homophone (picked up). Compare vain. My last in, and a tricky trawl with tube not, perhaps, the most generous definition.
1 Boxer formerly with concern to find target (4,6)
CLAY PIGEON I hope everyone knows that Mohammed Ali was once Casius Clay. I’m familiar with the phrase “not my pigeon” meaning of no concern to me: I didn’t know it comes from Chinese pidgin (皮金 according to Translate though doubtless our Far East contingent can correct it) a corruption of business, meaning affair, concern.
2 Moving upfront, he goads hosts (2,3,2)
ON THE GO “hosted” in upfrONT HE Goads
4 Burrower disturbed the marrow (9)
EARTHWORM What you get when THE MARROW is disturbed
5 Staff could have this small volume, mostly untouched (1,4)
C-CLEF Clearly we are in the realms of musical notation, so that sort of staff. A small volume is CC, and mostly untouched is LEFt. Indicating where middle C is, it looks like the letter B in this collection
6 Tried car home for a change, parking within sight of Paris (3,2,8)
ARC DE TRIOMPHE “For a change” tells you to throw the preceding letters in the air until they fall into a recognisable shape, You’ll aso need the P from Parking “within”.
7 High School cast up for a turn call theatre (7)
BOLSHOI In the context of this crossword, a rather clunky clue which I struggled to make sense of. But it’s H(igh) S(chool) (verified in Chambers) plus LOB for cast, both then “up” (reversed in a down clue) followed by OI for call.
8 Fish some hope to catch on the beach? (4)
RAYS Some in this context being sunbathers. A more or less double definition
10 Maybe Rebecca’s old track — that is included in musical (4,4,5)
WEST SIDE STORY More TLS. We have Rebecca WEST, writer and sometime Times journalist, keep the ‘S, add O(ld) RY (railway) track and insert that is in Latin, ID EST, better known as the abbreviation i.e. Fabulous music from Bernstein
13 Serenade knight after king in French palace (10)
KENSINGTON Forget (as I had to) Versailles, the French palace which inconveniently fits. You have serenade for SING TO, N for knight (chess) after K(ing) and French for in, EN. Currently home to several royals including the Cambridges and the Gloucesters
16 Offer stick for balancing act (9)
HANDSTAND Offer translates to HAND and stick to stand – I was thinking pontoon and poker.
18 Short grass skirts fashionable for a child (7)
BAMBINO No ra-ra here: short grass is BAMBOo which “skirts” IN for fashionable
20 Ultimately dire hole Cockney’s in, for example (7)
EPITOME So, ultimately dirE, PIT for hole and ‘OME for the aspirationally challenged Bow resident
22 Jones daughter coming out of the blue (5)
INIGO Even more TLS, Jones the architect, the blue we want being INDIGO from which his D(aughter) is excluded
23 Catch small badger (4)
SNAG A neat and relatively easy charade of S(mall) and NAG for badger.