It was not the easiest puzzle today, but I persevered and managed to complete it. I did have a couple of unanswered questions concerning the wordplay, though.
Some possibly unfamiliar abbreviations, people, places, words and expressions used in today's puzzle
gen - noun Brit. informal information
loaf1 - noun 3 slang the head or brains • Use your loaf
Note: I take this meaning to have been derived from Cockney rhyming slang, based on the following entry in Oxford "use one’s loaf Brit. informal use one’s common sense;other ranks - (abbreviation OR) plural noun Brit. (in the armed forces) all those who are not commissioned officers
probably from loaf of bread, rhyming slang for"head
Penzance - a town in Cornwall, England (likely well known to fans of Gilbert and Sullivan)
Royal Engineers - (abbreviation RE); see sapper: noun 1 a military engineer who lays or detects and disarms mines 2 Brit. a soldier in the Corps of Royal Engineers
Saint Francis de Sales - Roman Catholic saint
A review of today's puzzle by talbinho can be found at Times for the Times [ST 4369].
I am not sure why the review at Times for the Times shows February 21 as being a Saturday - must be a typo.
Commentary on Today's Puzzle
4a Bitterness shown by an agent weary when back inside (8)
Note that to get the solution one must reverse TIRE (weary, as a verb) as indicated by the phrase "when back" - a step that talbinho doesn't explicitly include in his review.
10a Sort of course about to be taken by new student (9)
The wordplay here just wouldn't quite fall into place for me. It's no wonder, I was trying to work with freshman (the North American term for a first year university student) whereas the setter, of course, had used the equivalent British term, fresher. While Chambers seems to clearly indicate that freshman is a North American term, the definition in Oxford would seem to indicate that this term may also be used in the U.K.
11a Our last king to have increased in stature? (5)
"Our last king" is George VI. The title of the reigning king is Rex (Latin for king) which is written after the name; so, during his reign, he would have been known as George Rex (often shortened to GR). However, given that he is no longer reigning, is it still proper to refer to him as George Rex?
1d I pack to go north, getting period by the sea (8)
I had to think a bit about "pack" meaning RAM. My initial feeling was that pack might be more likely to mean cram. However, it eventually occurred to me that one would use a ramrod to ram (i.e., pack) the charge into a muzzle loading firearm.
7d One very short book, look about men who composed songs (4,7)
The wordplay is I (one) V (very short; i.e., the word "very" shortened to a single letter) NOVEL (book) LO (look; as in "lo and behold") containing (about) OR (ordinary ranks = men). The definition is "who composed songs". Who composed songs? Ivor Novello did.
13d Get rid of examiner - test lousy - one hasn't succeeded! (11)
Since one cannot arbitrarily create abbreviations at whim (although one might sometimes think that setters do), I am sure there is some context in which S stands for "succeeded". Perhaps it is in some sort of pass/fail examination in British schools, or indicating the line of succession in charts of royal lineages, or some cricket or rugby term. Yes, I'm sure there is an explanation out there somewhere.
16d Ecstasy at a minimum with a more severe oriental person (9)
The definition is "oriental person" and the solution is EASTERNER. The wordplay is E (ecstasy at a minimum; i.e., the first letter of the word ecstasy) + (with) A STERNER (more severe).
As talbinho says, "
17d What coteries could be (8)
I found this concise, clever clue to be very appealing. A
27a Lecturer one with shiny nose? Not good! (3)
I must admit that I did not succeed in tracking down the wordplay here. I did a search on "dong shiny nose" which failed to turn up anything of interest. If I had only shortened my search to "dong nose", I would have been flooded with useful links.
Signing off for this week - Falcon