Monthly Archives: February 2014

Lord Deedes

William Deedes was born in 1913 and educated at Harrow before becoming a journalist with the Morning Post (1931-7). During the war he served with the Queen’s Westminsters and from 1950 until 1974 he was Conservative MP for Ashford. Between 1962 and 1964 he was minister without portfolio. He had long been associated with the Daily Telegraph, which he edited from 1974 to 1986. He was made a life peer in 1986 and died on 17th August 2007.

I first met Lord Deedes in 1991 when with Richard Ingrams, Auberon Waugh, Alexander Chancellor, and a host of well-known friends, we were about to launch the Oldie magazine. Lord Deedes was very supportive of the project and I got to know him rather well. We subsequently became friends after I interviewed him at length in 1992.

The following year when my next book of interviews More of a Certain Age appeared Lord Deedes provided a review for the weekend Telegraph, declaring: ‘This is the age of the interview, and most newspapers employ journalists practised at bearing the soul of the personality in the news.’

It was therefore disconcerting to ‘come across someone who excels at bearing souls and is not properly a journalist at all’. All of us have feelings ‘too deep for expression, thoughts we are reluctant to share even with those we love, let alone strangers’.

‘This is where the interview takes the character of safe-breaking with skeleton keys. Naim Attallah is a dab hand with skeleton keys. He is the smartest burglar in the business. Click, click, one by one the tumblers go down and the safe door swings open. Out of context the questions might sound ‘abrupt and impertinent’ but they follow a long stealthy approach from someone who has done his homework. When, in the first series of interviews, Attallah netted me, I was mildly alarmed by what he had already found out.’

Lord Deedes was a gentleman of an old generation that no longer exists today; honest and humble he remained active and true to his principles throughout his long life.

Here is my interview in full, which I believe will give the reader the real measure of this remarkable giant of Fleet Street.

How do you recall your childhood … was it a happy time for you? 

Not altogether because when I was six my father, who was living peacefully on £900 a year with five servants, suddenly inherited a large shattered castle. From then on life became exiguous and if you’re young, even if you’re only six or seven, you feel the anxieties of your parents.  Living as we were on a tumbledown estate after the First World War, when farming was bringing in nothing, many acres had to be sold off to make ends meet. Therefore I remember my childhood as being privately happy, because I had the land to roam over, but anxious also because I sensed that the foundations of life were shaky as a result of father’s predicament in taking on for family reasons more than he could cope with.

Yours was quite a large family … five children I believe. Did you see that as an advantage at the time? 

Yes, because I think there is a lot to be said for boys being bullied by sisters. I’m the only boy and I owe a great deal to my sisters who prodded me at certain times when I needed it. I have always felt that my sisters had more ambition for me than I had for myself. People nowadays who go in for much smaller families lose an ingredient which bigger families enjoyed. It’s difficult to define, but you build up a certain inner relationship which lasts all your life. It’s not an essential dimension, but it’s a useful one. I’m grateful for it anyway.

I wonder which of your parents now seems to you to have been most influential in your life? Perhaps that kind of question seems too overtly psychological. Do you think parents really have the strong influence that is always attributed to them? 

I was aware of tension between my parents because my mother, who was Protestant Irish, born in Dublin and conservative in her outlook, greatly desired that I should go to Winchester and follow her brothers there, which I proved too stupid to do. My father, on the other hand, had a great many newfangled ideas which he alternated rather rapidly with his political views. He had had a curious background. He had gone to the Boer War at the age of seventeen, which did his health no good and he was really an invalid most of his life. He was ostensibly a landowner, but he was also a socialist. In fact he was greatly attached to the Labour Party in those days and stood for parliament once as a labour candidate, then as an independent candidate. About that time – it was around the birth of the Labour Party – he shared a feeling that society was unequal and there was too big a gap between the well-to-do and the rest. He had what you might call the Edwardian, old Etonian conscience, and I look back on him as a very respected Christian socialist. He was left of centre for what might be described as inner reasons rather than ideology. There was one period, for example, when he bought every book he could lay his hands on about Mussolini. There was an endearing enthusiasm about my father’s political beliefs and in the early stages he even thought Hitler might do Germany a bit of good. My mother, however, was a staunch conservative and found all this rather difficult. So as a child I remember my mind being pulled between my mother’s innate conservativeness and my father’s rather dashing radicalism; but this may have done me no harm at all. I didn’t follow one or the other, I just realized there was a difference. As it happened, however, I did follow my mother eventually.

Do you think your relationship with your own son was very different from your father’s with you? 

No. I’m ashamed to this day by the fact that my relationship with my son, who was born during the last war, was more like my father’s with me. In other words, I was almost the last of that generation of men who did not feel that a great intimacy with his children was part of a father’s duty. Today I find that my own children share the lives of their children in a way that never occurred to me. If my children enjoy most success now I am always the first to attribute this to my wife because my own contribution was minimal. Frankly I was neglectful and I treated my children as my father treated me. And, of course, there were nurses and governesses to look after them.

I suppose there will be people to whom your life will seem to have been remarkably privileged: a childhood household with five servants, school-days at Harrow, your own son sent to Eton. Has it been as enviable as it seems? 

Not a bit. I actually left Harrow a year early. My housemaster sent for me one day and said: ‘I’ve very sorry … we had a letter from your father to say that he has been seriously affected by the Wall Street Crash.’ Everyone was very sympathetic; the housemaster even gave me a couple of quid to pay my fare home. But I suppose there was a bit of privilege in my getting my first job on the Morning Post since the paper’s managing editor had just got a gun in Uncle Wyndham’s shoot and as a quid pro quo I got a job on the paper, but I still had to work my way.

You are obviously a very political animal. Was that interest the result of family background or was it something that developed out of your career as a journalist? 

It was more family background. I think the Deedes family have had a member of parliament in every century since 1600. A year as a lobby correspondent in 1936-7 certainly gave me a taste for politics and so when an opening arose after the war I wasn’t unfamiliar with what the work would entail, but I suspect it’s mainly heredity.

You have been both a cabinet minister and a distinguished journalist. Which do you think is the most influential position in the end? What I had in mind is that while a cabinet minister has a good deal of authority he must be constrained by government policy, so I wonder just how much room there is for manoeuvre? 

There’s never been any doubt about this. A politician is by far the stronger figure for this reason; he is a decision-making figure. Journalists can advocate, campaign, attack, and though they can make themselves immensely influential, they can’t make decisions. Only a member of parliament, and even more so a minister, can actually do that, and therefore the two are not really comparable. In terms of power the politician has always got it over the journalist. The journalist might look at times to be more powerful, particularly if you have a figure like Northcliffe or Maxwell or Murdoch, who decides to attack politicians and possibly appears even to change a government; in reality, however, the politician always has the stronger position.

Was Beaverbrook powerful because he was a journalist baron or because he was a politician? 

Beaverbrook had another value altogether. Beaverbrook was a major contributor to the social revolution in Britain. I remember my pre-war Daily Express very well, and that newspaper was revolutionary in saying to the reader: ‘You’re as good as any other man.’ Beaverbrook was a great believer in making his readers feel the equal of royalty, plutocracy or the aristocracy. He did more to make the reader feel that he was on the up and up than any other proprietor I’ve ever known. His huge empire and all his political convictions appeared to be very strong and influential but the real revolution he brought about – though he may not have known what he was doing – was to tell his readers that their daughters would look as good at Ascot as anybody else’s. It was immensely influential journalism. I didn’t like him, but he had a great instinct.

You spent your entire career as a journalist on a right-wing paper, or one which is certainly thought to be so. Have you ever had any doubts about that political allegiance? 

I think I can truthfully say no. I would be regarded in Mrs Thatcher’s terms as a wet, and I am wet, though I’m dry on a number of subjects, South Africa, for example. I’m more of a wet on social issues – possibly I owe something to my father and my uncle, both of whom were in the other camp. I’ve shifted here and there, I’ve had minor changes of opinion, but I’ve never regretted being on the right or having to write for a right-wing newspaper.

In the hard times in the 1930s there was, it is always said, some sense of community, but now in the 1990s even that is disappearing; a political philosophy has emerged which seems content to place more emphasis on the individual. Do you think this is a healthy trend? 

I used to go to the distressed areas as a reporter before the war, and one of the things that struck me was that even in places like South Wales, Newcastle upon Tyne or West Cumberland, where there was real poverty and a shortage of food, there was a definite social empathy; they clung together. If one week you literally couldn’t afford a loaf of bread you relied upon your neighbour to give you half a loaf of bread. It was a very different social pattern from what we have now when neighbours are almost strangers one to another. I don’t understand the reasons. All I know is that there is a great contrast between (shall we say) the society I found in Newcastle when I went up there in the thirties and the society that has just been uncorked by recent events and reported in the press. Society has become more self-contained, much more cellular. I use that word because modern living is like a beehive in which everybody is in a cell rather than in human association. The other day I went to Moscow and I was very struck by how much more socially interdependent the Russians are. I rather envied them. I talked to countless people on the streets, and I saw almost a throwback to the years before we had home entertainments and distractions which kept us apart. The Russians are very dependent on human association, and it’s something that we have – I won’t say sacrificed – but it’s something we’ve let slip.

Do you ever have a feeling that politicians have misjudged the degree to which rhetoric can be substituted for reality? I have in mind the way figures, for example, can be manipulated; even if bad they are presented as reasonably good. Doesn’t that sort of thing damage the trust needed between government and governed? 

That is a difficult question. There is far less direct connection between the people and those who govern them that there was in the past. When I began in politics, public meetings were de rigeur; they’re very rare today. In my view there is no better recording of where the shoe pinches than at a public meeting of not more than say eighty to a hundred people; even thirty to forty will do. I don’t know any better way of discovering what lies inside people’s minds and hearts. I am astonished at what you get out of people if you give yourself the time to talk to them for more than ten minutes. It’s something that’s irreplaceable; it’s not something you can read in the papers, or something you can guess. In the great public meetings of the past, politicians did have the advantage of learning from people directly what hurt them. Indeed in very distant days this is what the sovereign did until the whole thing became too burdensome. This is something missing now in our modern democracy and it may in the end prove to be its undoing. One form of redress is for ministers to appear at public meetings where public feeling will make itself felt. I have been to meetings that have been broken up and the minister left in doubt as to what people thought. There were times in the 1920s when Lloyd George’s ‘Land Fit for Heroes’ produced massive demonstrations. Today, unless you get some extravagant demonstration by young people in Newcastle, there is no outlet for public feeling, no forum. It’s no good telling me that Any Questions or Question Time or any rubbish on Thursday night is going to replace that, because it doesn’t. It may be good entertainment but it doesn’t get the vox pop.

You were once minister of information. That must have been an ironic situation for a journalist. Wasn’t there a danger in that position of suppressing exactly the information that as a journalist you would have been trying to reveal? 

Absolutely. As a journalist I have always supposed that the cabinet had countless secrets which I’ve never been lucky enough to find out. As a minister without portfolio, I could not think of anything the cabinet had decided which the press had not already got hold of. From the outside you appear to be attacking a fortress when you’re a journalist. From the inside you appear to be in a mud castle, the walls of which are rapidly being eroded. In other words, you’ve got no protection. The cabinet ministers for their own reasons talk to their cronies in the press over lunch and then the ministry of information becomes redundant. I’m bound to say towards the end of my two years in that job a sense of superfluity overwhelmed me [laughter]. I was most grateful for the experience, but for future prime ministers, it’s not a job that ought ever to be included in any cabinet of sensible men.

Why is there such distaste among British politicians for allowing the people who elect and pay them to have information about the way they are to be governed? The Americans are infinitely less secretive but their government remains intact. 

I’m not a great subscriber to this school of thought. First of all I think that countries fundamentally have differences and it’s a mistake to think that the system in one country is going to work in another. I understand the American freedom of information; I understand their First Amendment, I also look without much envy at their libel laws. I have been in America and seen public figures completely destroyed by the freedom with which the Americans are allowed to attack or investigate and expose, and I am therefore not starry-eyed about their system. Nor am I absolutely convinced that the so called blanket of secrecy which the press feel is kept over everything here really exists. Having seen it from both ends, I can assure the press that far less is covered over with secrecy than they believe. I don’t believe you can run any business, let alone government, without a degree of confidentiality. Good government does depend to a certain extent on trusting that colleagues will not, for their own purposes, blow government business to the press or to the public. Of course, the public have a right to know what is being done in their name, but there’s a balance to be struck. I was on the Franks Official Secrets Committee. With Oliver Franks, probably the best chairman I’ve ever served under in my life, we spent fifteen months going through this whole problem of what should be said to the public and what should not. In the end, as you know, we fenced off defence, some fiscal treasury matters and certain foreign affairs matters. I am powerfully persuaded that good government has a right to a degree of secrecy. What that degree is will never be agreed between the press and government. I’ll accept your point that we are more secretive here than we need to be; I don’t accept that the American system would be the better one.

But would you support a kind of freedom of information – not the same as the Americans’, but one which would enable the public to get more information? The present state of affairs is surely not very satisfactory. 

Experience shows that in Canada and in America where there is a right of the public to discover certain information, they don’t always look for what you think they would look for. They look for your income tax return; they look for detail which is frankly not relevant to the public weal. All right, there may well be a case, if it increases public confidence, for giving more access to what government is doing, but don’t be disappointed if having granted them access, you find it’s not used to a very high purpose.

There is now, and has been for some time, pressure for an act guaranteeing a right to privacy. Do you think that it is a sensible thing or are the private lives of public figures of legitimate public interest? 

I’ve thought about this a lot. I have to say that I think the lives of public figures are of public interest and legitimate areas for press enquiry. I regret the fact that we should find it interesting that a cabinet minister has a liaison with a woman other than his wife, and I think we should not confuse public interest and prurience. There’s a distinction between the two, but we shall never agree on what the distinction is. And so I accept that the private affairs of a public man may become a matter of public interest. However, I draw the line where children are concerned. Very few people in the press ever calculated the effect upon a child at school of an accusation (on possibly not very solid grounds) against its father or it may be the mother. Of course if it is proved that a man has indulged in criminal activity, then too bad if the child suffers, but I’ve seen tittle tattle about public figures which has made children at school terribly miserable. When there was a brief interest in my own private life, the only newspapers I really despised were those who encouraged my children to talk on the telephone. That is not a form of journalism that I think is acceptable; but I’m liberal and I have to accept that you go into public life in your private misdemeanours become public property. In a democracy you must go along with the public mood and people today are very sensitive about any affection of superiority. The most potent word in the English language today is ‘inferior’ and any politician who may have delivered a homily on the subject of one-parent families and is then found to have a mistress in Rome, Paris and Vancouver should be exposed. The public are entitled to know and to draw their conclusions.

You were minister without portfolio in 1963 when the Profumo scandal broke which eventually led to Macmillan’s downfall. Did you see that as inevitable at the time? Would it be different now? 

In retrospect I think there were a number of errors made in addition to the original error, that is to say I think there was a certain amount of press hype, and I’m not speaking now as one who was a minister at the time. The whole tale became almost a satire of the British in their moral suit of clothes. This is reinforced with hindsight by the fact that Jack, with whom I was at school and have known all my life and am still very fond of, has in the intervening twenty-five years reclaimed his status and his right to be regarded as a good man in a way which none of us can emulate. I regard this as a very interesting moral tale. Those who would be the first to condemn Jack and would still be saying, ‘Oh, but didn’t he tell a lie to the House of Commons and so on…’, very few of them can hold a candle to what he has done since in Toynbee Hall. I have a secret respect for people who have a tumble and recover, and this includes Jack, it includes Nixon, and it even includes Bob Maxwell. I respect the people I’ve known who have taken a big fall and recovered. I doubt my own capacity to do so.

But would you condemn Profumo for his sexual morality, or for telling a lie to parliament? Which was the more serious? 

The falsehood to parliament was the serious aspect of the case, no question about that, but the circumstances in which he was induced to make that unwise statement have always mitigated what he did in my view.

When I interviewed leading women in France for my book, it was suggested to me that indiscretions were considered to be among the perks of being a politician. Do you think the British are simply more hypocritical or is it rather a matter of competition between newspapers, the need to sell? 

I think we must respect national differences which have historical backgrounds. The French have a view about sex, the British have a view about sex, and that is just one problem we’re going to run into when we start a federal Europe. I am not prepared to make invidious comparisons, but I do think that we have developed a class of newspaper in this country now which knows that the published peccadilloes of public figures sell like hot cakes. I think possibly we sell more hot cakes in this country than the French do in theirs. Indiscretions in Paris would simply not produce the fuss they produce here. I’ve never found a word to describe the British attitude towards sex. It’s still really schoolboys’ lavatory-wall stuff and this is what the newspapers cash in on. I’m not devoted to the French, I don’t find myself naturally attracted to them, but I do deeply admire their more adult and mature attitude towards sex, and the more I look at what our tabloids breakfast on, the more I envy the French. It’s going to take a very long time to get this silliness out of the British system.

When Lord Lambton left politics he remarked that there was a world of difference between doing a thing and being found out. That remark was seen by some as being a sophisticated response, by others as cynical indifference. How do you see it? 

Lambton was a minister at the time, and I do think that ministers have a certain duty to keep their private affairs from exciting the News of the World. Lambton was making a philosopher’s point, but the fact is that he was a disgraced minister and I do not think that any amount of satire or humour can really rationalize what he did. I’m quite consistent about this. If you’re in public office, you have a duty to your colleagues and to your government to live in the context of your times. It’s no good saying, ‘If I were in Paris nobody would take any notice of my going to bed with a black woman and a white woman.’ The fact is if you’re in the UK and you have the News of the World looking over your shoulder, then you must take that into account.

Do you ever think that journalism is bound to be constantly concerned with the trivial because of its ephemeral nature? There’s nothing quite so dead as yesterday’s newspaper. Perhaps the serious papers are just entertaining a different set of people from the tabloids. Or would you argue that there is a difference? 

The answer to that is to make a comparison between today’s newspapers and the newspapers of the thirties or even the fifties. I’ve just had to look through the newspapers of the fifties and I am mildly alarmed, as a professional journalist, to discover the extent to which, especially in popular newspapers, the content of serious news has gone down and the amount of trivia has gone up. Assuming that newspapers are guided by men who know where public taste lies, this is a disturbing commentary on public education. I don’t want to be too tendentious, but when people abuse the Star or the Sun or the News of the World, I ask myself whether they’re picking the right target. Let’s take the old Daily Mirror of Cudlip’s day, or the old Daily Herald of Southwood’s. I look back on them and, alas, I fear public tastes are not what they were at one time. The appetite for serious news has virtually vanished. I think the attention span is much shorter than it was … television has something to do with this … and there are many children now who find it almost impossible to read through a whole book. But this is something outside the realm of journalism.

Journalists often like to present themselves as opinion makers. They certainly give opinions but do you think they actually change minds or do they rather bolster prejudices? 

 The irony here is that in the old days when they knew what was news and what was opinion, and the editorial columns of the papers were strictly confined to the opinion, then I think they did influence people. I’m thinking of something like The Times editorial which recommended that Czechoslovakia should yield to Hitler and save Europe a grave embarrassment; or of some of the leading articles even in the Daily Mail during the First World War about the shell scandal, the shortage of shells on the Western Front. Now the irony is this: the newspapers have rather self-indulgently enlarged the realm of opinion, and they no longer separate news from editorial. Most news is presented in a way to persuade you of this or that. For example, news about Mr Kinnock in the right-wing newspapers is designed to persuade you that he’s in a mess. Nowadays you have far more columnists than before, opinionated fellows (like myself, I suppose I have to add) who write weekly or daily columns and who are expressing views all the time. It follows that the influence of newspapers has greatly diminished because their spread of rather subjective material is such that the public has become almost inoculated against it. People are very careful today about accepting what any newspaper says, so the newspapers have defeated themselves.

Before the war the unemployed were, I suppose, relatively unaware of what one might call the context of their poverty. There was a social cordon sanitaire around them, but the situation is now very different. Put bluntly, they can see what they are missing. Is that not bound to produce great social unrest and a see-saw of repression and resistance? 

I think about this. Before the war, the problem for many people was literally getting enough to eat. Today it’s rather different. Poverty today relates to what other people have in relation to what you yourself have. We’re dealing with comparative standards of living. You’re asking me if I think that this is more inflammatory than the old hunger standard, and I’m not sure. There are manifestations amongst young people that they are prepared to show their discontent in a way which the old poor were not – car nicking, and so on. In theory a different standard of life shouldn’t lead to a revolution, yet in a way I think it does. I’ve just been in the Sudan where people are almost at the end of their tether through lack of food, but there is no mood of revolution there, no rising up against the government. You have to remind yourself that when people are denied the necessities of life they go very quiet, but when they’re denied the so-called good things of life which they see widely advertised in our consumer society, there is probably a more inflammatory situation.

I recall you writing about Tyneside and drawing attention among other things to the prevalence of one-parent families there. What do you think can be done about that? Is it a sign of social disintegration? 

We’ve learned recently that about a third of the children in this country are born out of wedlock. I do not doubt that there are many lone mothers devoted to their children, but there is no question that more children are in some way handicapped, and therefore the state has to concern itself. It’s not a matter of morality, it’s a matter of public welfare. Furthermore, a degree of public cost is involved in this. If you look at the figures you will discover that the number of children born outside wedlock creates quite a heavy bill for a government. My philosophy about this is really lamentable because I am a great believer in a self-correcting mechanism. I do not ever think that politicians can alter human behaviour.

If the government feels it a duty to make sure that the parents of those children suffer in no way at all and are treated through public funds, then in my view you will delay the working of a self-correcting mechanism which I deeply believe in. One generation learns from the previous generation. If the government neglects the problem and allows the public to see that a one-parent family suffers in a way which is unacceptable in our sort of democracy, then it is my belief that the self-correcting mechanism would work sooner. But we have to compromise; we have to do the minimum to prevent the children being handicapped and at the same time be aware as politicians that our powers are limited – we cannot correct the situation.

Very soon now we shall be in Europe … how do you think it will develop? Is it going to be a federal organization in the end? 

On certain terms we can as readily share the culture, history and economy of Europe as any other nation. My principal anxiety is this: that if the architects of Europe with every good intention move too fast, become too enthusiastic, work towards a federal Europe too quickly, they will sow the seeds of conflict. If they overstress conformity then they could produce a reaction against the whole concept of Europe and defeat their own best endeavours. That is the centre of my European belief. I am pro-European as anyone who can remember both world wars has to be. Even Mr Delors is preferable to Marshal Foch. However, you must have proportion, historical proportion. I do not want to see Europe defeated and undermined by excessive zeal, and I think that could happen. There’s a limit to the notion whereby European cultures, beliefs, civilization and peoples can be pulled into what some imaginatively regard as being akin to the United States of America, which had totally different origins.

Do you think that Mrs Thatcher is right in her views on Europe? 

I think she’s right in her views, and wrong on how she expressed them. Her instinct was that there would be a public revulsion against a demand for excessive conformity. It’s an instinct I share. She was perhaps clumsy, perhaps over-forceful in the way in which she expressed her opposition to all this, but I know and you know that many in Europe were secretly rather grateful for the things she was saying. She lacked finesse, she could have harnessed people’s anxieties, but instead she antagonized them. That was her mistake.

You have served as a cabinet minister so I suppose you must approve of the centrality of ‘market forces’, but won’t an attempt to emulate America in that way produce the same large underclass with all its attendant problems? There are already riots in the streets of Cardiff and in Oxford for whatever reason… 

In Russia the underclass is incomparably larger than the underclass in the United States or in the UK. If you go to the food markets you discover that at one end the poor relations are scrabbling for food at government prices and at the other end there is Californian food for those who can afford it. I’ve never seen a country with greater distinctions between the poor and the privileged. So before we say that the market economy leads to impoverishment as indeed it does for a proportion of the population, let’s say that we’ve got something built in here which is difficult to avoid. To some extent a degree of human poverty is unavoidable in almost any society. I can’t think of a formula by which you can avoid a certain number of people going to the wall. But ours is better than anything they’ve got in Africa, or Latin America, or the Soviet Union. What I think the wealthier societies have to do is to find a means, without crippling themselves, of tempering the wind of the shorn lamb. I’m a great believer in Keith Joseph’s philosophy – that the real advantage of a market economy is that you can afford to do more for the impoverished people than by any other means. That is the only solution to what you’re postulating.

From time to time you have complained in the context of the newspaper world of the way accountants now rule the roost. Is that not the inevitable outcome of the political faith you have espoused? 

I do think that newspapers are at risk of becoming too prone to the advice of the marketing man, and I have seen in my time a very big shift from the authority of an editor to the authority of those who have to sell the newspaper. Editors are now more and more persuaded by marketing people to cater for a certain class of public that they say is necessary for the health of the newspaper. The irony about newspapers today is that we’re now employing some of the best minds that come out of the universities. I’ve never known a period in which we’ve recruited abler people to journalism, incomparably abler than the people we had a generation ago or in my early days, yet this is not reflected in the quality of the newspaper. Journalists are now much better qualified; they can actually write English and do joined-up writing, yet we have on the whole a more trivialized, a brasher, perhaps less informative set of newspapers. I’ve only ever had one view about the press: it is there to offer people the basis for making their decisions. And that function has not actually improved under all the better minds from Oxbridge and other universities. That is one of the sadnesses.

With the demise of communism and the triumph of capitalism, are we not going to have a world which simply dances to the tunes played by the United States? 

We’re between acts at the moment, the curtain is down, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. But I’m quite sure of this: that the human race, being born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards, has problems that are not going to be cured by the death of communism. I don’t know that we’re going to live in a tranquil and easy-going life and I am doubtful whether in the end we’re going to see this rather simplistic solution of the United States prevailing over all. One of the things I worry about with the United States is whether behind all the wealth and the dollars, it is actually a nation in decline. My impression of Eastern European countries, by contrast, is that they are going to evolve some compromises between the failure of Marxism and the falsehood of capitalism, and I think we may find some new formulas developing which will be of great interest. A country like Hungary, for example, may well produce something which is better than anything we’ve yet attained.

You have spoken of ‘capitalism in the service of humanity’, but that is surely a utopian idea. Most liberals would disagree and argue that in the first instance capitalism is necessarily at the service of capitalists. Isn’t it the ‘overflow’ which serves the rest? 

We’re talking about the most efficient way of dealing with human resources which must in the end provide more of the means which every nation has to find for dealing with the unfortunate section of the population which has to be – to put it bluntly – subsidized. Communism did not work, though many had high hopes of it, nor did fascism, so we have this imperfect mechanism, the market economy. It may be a very bad system, but we’re now learning that nobody yet has produced anything better. In so far as it can provide enough to enable a country to look after those below the line, then it is a good system. What else can we do? If you say to me that you doubt whether capitalists ever wished to help, and that most of them are out for what they can get for themselves, then I say that is where government has a role to play. It is for government to decide what capitalists should keep to themselves and what governments should lay their hands on for the benefit of the unfortunates.

You sent your own son to Eton. If those who can afford private education do that, does it not dilute the pool of talent available to teach the vast majority of our children? 

When I was in the army I was sharing a room with a man who was going to have a house at Eton. We agreed that we ought to put faith in the future – it was just before D-Day – and my son had just been born. My friend said, ‘There are preferential terms for penitent old Harrovians, so would you like to put your son’s name in a book?’ and so I did. We both survived and so my son went to Eton. That’s the story there. I accept that the English private education system is now becoming exorbitantly expensive, and I think it’s just possible for this reason that there is a limited future for it. I also accept that we are internationally almost singular in our public schools. But I have never believed that their existence damages the national system. The national system is not in a very healthy state, but that does not in my view relate to the public schools. I don’t accept the theory that if parent of children who go the private sector were required to use the state schools they would exert enormous influence. I don’t see any harm in the public schools continuing. They are enjoyed by labour supporters as well as conservative supporters, so let’s have no humbug about that. I myself set a very high value on them. There is a great inclination to reduce standards in education generally, to make exams easier, to reduce the rigors of the academic world. And it seems to me absolutely imperative, however noxious or class conscious it might appear, to keep a sort of yardstick against which you can measure quality. I know this is a very aggressive thing to say, but I feel this very strongly. I do think state education has gone through a very bad patch, that it is on the slide, but if you abolish the only comparative standard you’ve got, not only in terms of academic results, but in terms of discipline and what you turn out, then I don’t think you’re doing society any good.

But aren’t you maintaining the class system? That’s the danger that I see. 

I think the class system in this country, compared with the twenties and thirties, has altered far more than anybody can believe. The speed at which we have reduced the enormous differences in class since the First World War is barely recognized today. I would wish in many ways that we had rather more of a pyramid, that all the old grammar schools, one or two grant-aided schools and the rest comprehensives. The distinctions are too great. But I don’t think there’s any need for public-school masters to beat their breasts with guilt and say (as they often do) that they barely have the right to exist. I think the class thing can be exaggerated. It’s unimportant compared to standards, which are immensely important.

I imagine you were an admirer of Mrs Thatcher. 


What was your feeling when she was obliged to resign? 

I felt very worried about the way in which it was done, and wrongly thought that it would have a very bad effect on the Conservative Party. I underrated its resilience and the ability of Tories to gloss over what I regarded as a rather doubtful episode historically. The sacking of a conservative leader on a ballot is an unusual occurrence, and it’s not in my view in the tradition of the Conservative Party. I never approved of the Humphrey Berkeley rules in the first place. My initial feelings lasted for about three months and then to my surprise I realized I was wrong. Judging from the most recent meetings I’ve conducted, the conservative public have accepted the outcome with far less bitterness than I expected. Some credit for this is due to John Major who has conducted himself well for a man who had very little chance to think out what he was going to do before he had to do it. Some credit is also due to Mrs Thatcher who, notwithstanding the efforts of the press to involve her in bitterness, has in fact, like her husband, stepped outside any sort of controversy. The Conservative Party constantly surprises me.

Had Mrs Thatcher remained would we have fared better? 

The action was unfortunate, but I think that it was ultimately for the benefit of the Conservative Party. I’m not revealing anything I shouldn’t, but I have a feeling that retirement had been uppermost in her mind for some time and but for the recession all this might have come about in another way. The most difficult decision any prime minister has to make is not when to call a general election, but when to go. For historical reasons no prime minister wants to go on a low, and I think Mrs Thatcher of her own nature might have called it a day a little bit sooner had it not been for the fact that the recession left her with a sense of ‘I’d better see this through.’ As it was she was not allowed to make her own decision and was forced out through a concatenation of circumstances – the Rome summit, the Howe speech, the Heseltine challenge and then the denouement. I’ll sum it up by saying that the Tory Party has had rather more luck than it deserves.

I can readily understand that as the editor of a national newspaper you must have been extremely frustrated by the practices and demands of the print unions, but what view do you take of the idea of trade unions, do you think they are necessary to ensure that employees are not exploited? 

The fact of the matter is that those print unions so overplayed their hands as to make life unsupportable, and in so doing they did their fellows a bad turn. One of the great ironies of modern times is that the dockers behaved in such a way as to empty the docks of London, and the printers of Fleet Street who came from much the same background behaved in such a way as to make Fleet Street untenable. Now the newspapers have moved into the vacancies in the docks left by the dockers. It’s true, there’s a lot of management today which needs superintendence by vigilant trade unions, I’ve no doubt about that. As part of our meritocracy, there is a standard of modern management which looks awfully like the steel masters and the iron masters and the cotton masters who rose in Victorian times and who treated their work forces very badly. I am totally convinced of the need for a vigilant trade union to keep management from exploitation, but it’s unfortunate that excessive zeal by the printers and some other unions have led to this state of affairs. I don’t think Mrs Thatcher emasculated the unions, but there is a balance to be struck between leaving trade unions to fulfil their role, and at the same time not enabling them to cripple the economy for reasons which are irrelevant.

Who made the deepest impression on you in your role as a politician? 

Though he was dead before I became an active politician, the man I’ve always followed more closely than anybody else was Stanley Baldwin. I have all his speeches, I constantly refer to him, and I’ve always regarded him as a thoroughly underrated member of the Conservative Party for several reasons. Firstly he understood the doctrine of one society. We talk about a classless society, but look up some of Baldwin’s speeches and you will see that he was the first man to realize that if this country was going to get anywhere we would have to get there together. The General Strike conflicted with Baldwin’s philosophy, but with all the criticism that is levelled at him, it has to be said that against all predictions through the thirties he got us into the Second World War more or less as one people; this is not a thing that I underrate at all. Similarly, I’ve thought often that Alec Home represented something which is missing in British politics now, namely the figure who has better things to do but goes in out of a sense of something which is not ambition, not a desire to better himself, not a desire to win. There is an element of public service about Alec Home which is an essential ingredient of English public life. Think of the way in which when he surrendered the premiership he was perfectly happy to continue as foreign secretary. There was a degree of selflessness about that which I think the modern Tory Party, which has become rather self-regarding, would do well to take up.

You served under several prime ministers. How did you asses them? 

I’ve always had a theory that every prime minister has one special historical function in his time. In Winston’s case it was obviously the war. With Alec it was rather different. Just when the Tory party was becoming was becoming very inward looking and material Alec reminded us of other values; he set a certain example. Macmillan’s primary function was to speed up the process of independence for the colonies. He knew that after India there was no alternative but to dismantle. The wind of change was essentially his business. Eden was really too shortlived to have any particular function except to remind us perhaps through Suez that – as Kipling called it – our dominion over palm and pine had diminished, had in fact finished. Eden was a historical reminder that we were not where we thought we were (I’m thinking of Suez).

What about Thatcher? 

The most important thing about her was that in age in which women sought equality her example was of greater value than all the equal opportunities acts put together. She came at a critical moment for women and was a huge encouragement to them. I’m pro-woman and anti-feminist in a funny way, if you know what I mean. I think it’s stupid not to make more use of the abundant talents of so many women, but I’m not in favour of all these artificial arrangements to make certain that every woman has a position she doesn’t necessarily want. And Thatcher embodied all that. She also broke down a whole lot of adhesions in the Tory Party which had become a slightly clublike organization. As a Tory MP for twenty-five years I knew there were certain understandings, but she would have none of it. She had her own idea of how to go about things and she changed the whole way of thinking in the party. She never felt herself handicapped by anybody who looked down on her; she never felt handicapped by any minister who opposed her.

When the war came, do you think you were more aware than other people of fascism and what it meant because of your background as a journalist? 

I wish I had been. It’s one of my laments that although the politicians of the 1930s have been roundly abused for failure to know what Nazi Germany was doing, a great amount of unapportioned blame lies with the journalists of those years. As journalists in the thirties we failed lamentably to produce as we should have done a loud enough warning note of what was happening in Germany. There were reasons for this. Proprietors and editors were too much in the pocket of those in the Foreign Office who wanted to give Hitler the benefit of the doubt. The great thing was not to rock the boat, not to write something that was going to infuriate Hitler. There was a certain element of responsibility attached to this but it was fatally misconceived. As a result of the British up to 1938 they did not get the warning that they should have had from the free press.

At present there is a bill going through parliament designed to provide people with the right to reply to incorrect information. I know you feel it is an awkward way to deal with the problem and that it would be exploited. But is it not a problem which has to be tackled? How would you do it? 

It ought to be done by the editor and if the editor fails to give the reader a right of reply, then I am quite clear in my mind that we have to go to a statutory right of reply which will land us in a most unholy mess. We shall have to entertain not only a right of reply on fact, but on opinion, and once you’ve started to do that it will run and run and there will never be an end to it. I only hope every editor understands what the penalty will be. Mind you, I’m very sceptical, more sceptical than Lord MacGregor, about any parliamentary move against the press. I know my political parties on this score. No party before, or even after a general election is willingly going to antagonize the newspapers by taking a step such as the statutory right of reply. It is a perfectly reasonable sword of Damocles for people like Lord MacGregor to hold over editors’ heads but my political instinct tells me that there is not the slightest possible prospect of either a conservative or even a government under Mr Kinnock doing it. Politicians know which side their bread is buttered.

Is there any effective way of reconciling the freedom of the press with the protection of the individual, or for that matter of minorities? There are already restrictions about inciting racial hatred, for example. On the face of it, it seems very proper, but all governments love to restrict the press – think of the D notices… 

I don’t myself regard the press as unduly threatened by the Official Secrets Act or by D notices. I worked as an editor for nine years before I even had to refer to a D notice, and I think the newspapers for their own reasons tend to exaggerate the extent to which their ability to tell the public what they ought to know is impeded by D notices or fear of official secrets, or, to go wider, fear of defamation or libel. I think the balance in this country is just about right. Every now and again we get huge libel damages ad people say the law is an ass. I think we went through a rather exceptional period in which juries lacked guidance from the judge, but that probably will be corrected. In terms of the Temple Court, I’m rather old fashioned; I think that newspapers should not be free to ridicule judges and to attack them in public and say that their sentences lead one to suppose they ought to be in lunatic asylums. Furthermore, the prejudicing of a trial of an individual by pre-press trial as happens in America is, to my mind, obnoxious. To hell with the First Amendment on that score. Let’s not have the illusion of loosening the law of secrecy  which is simply going to lead to a raising of the levels at which documents are marked confidential or secret. You can take the horse to water but you’ve got to make the horse drink, and no system with which the civil service will not cooperate is workable or of any value at all, whatever politicians say. If the civil service considers that the law of secrecy is not inimical to the public good then the law will remain what it was, regardless of what parliament says. So I don’t want to get into that situation. For the moment we’ve got something which everybody cooperates with. I can’t remember in twelve years of editing the Daily Telegraph feeling impeded about telling my readers something they should know; other editors may have different experiences, but I’m afraid I’m individual, I’m odd man out on this.

Would you ever have prevented publication of something on moral grounds, as it were, or because you yourself held strong views on a particular subject? 

No. I’m entirely beholden to the tradition of the paper. As you well know the Daily Telegraph carries a page 3 which is the envy of some of the tabloids. As the old News of the World used to say, all human life is there on our page 3. There are very few known sins that aren’t at some point recounted on the Daily Telegraph’s page 3, and I would regard it as obnoxious if on subjective grounds I prevented something from being printed. If it is within the tradition of the paper, my personal views on the matter are irrelevant.

Do you believe in censorship at any level? 

Don’t let’s mix up censorship and editorial judgement. The latter, whether it is in broadcasting, in television or in newspapers, has to be exercised. I absolutely hold to that. But that is not censorship. A lot of modern authors regard any failure to publish what they’ve done as an act of censorship, but it is not, though it is sometimes an act of editorial judgement.

When you decided to stand for parliament, did you have an ambition to reach high office or to implement some particular scheme? What was it that prompted you to take up so different a career? 

There were about eight members of my family who had been in parliament before me and they had all chugged along quite cheerfully. There’s a wonderful passage in Henri Leroi’s Life of Disraeli in which there is described an encounter in the Carlton Club during the fall of the coalition. Somebody rushes in and says to the chief whip: ‘There’s no need for the coalition to fall. There are good men waiting … such as Deedes, Snoops and Swift’ … to which the chief whip replies, ‘These are not names that I can lay before the Queen.’ I don’t think any of my relatives held high office; they just felt quite content, as I did, to represent a constituency. So I entered parliament with the idea that I was perfectly happy to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and if anything came of it, it came. But I wasn’t very keen, truth to tell, because all my life the Daily Telegraph has been a very generous host to my small talents and I didn’t particularly want my connections with the paper to be interrupted by politics. I could work for the Daily Telegraph as a member of parliament but it would have been difficult as a minister. So I can honestly say that I went in hoping to chug along happily as a backbencher.

Working as a politician must have been very different from being a newspaper man or a soldier. Did you find it a congenial environment? 

Absolutely not. It’s as different as you can imagine. A journalist has to live on his initiative; if he gets an idea, he can pursue it. Provided he gets his bosses’ countenance he can get on with it. In Whitehall it’s a totally different world because everything you do is subject to scrutiny. You’re part of an enormous chain, and the process through which your bright idea has to travel are unimaginably sick, and so you get rather discouraged, unless you’re a very powerful figure which I never pretended to be. It was the contrast between journalism and ministerial life that made me think that I preferred journalism.

As an MP you were once concerned with the drug problem. Some people such as Judge Pickles take the radical view that their use should be legalized. Taking drugs might then become a habit like social drinking and they could be taxed. What view did you take? 

I worked chiefly in this field with people like Barbra Wootton who took a more radical view than I did. I swotted up the subject and was helped by doctors, and I must first of all say that it is not a moral position I hold on this. But I do take the view that there are enough health hazards – and other hazards – strewn about the feet of young people today without adding one more. I know that it may be said that if you legalize cannabis or even harder drugs you avoid damage to the law which is being made a mockery of at the moment by people, often well-connected people, who smoke cannabis around the clock. All right, that is a fact. But the higher priority in my view is not to add to hazards that already exist in the way of alcohol, and so on. I’ve also had it argued to me that fewer young people would smoke cannabis if it was legalized, since it’s the illegality which appeals. This is all very beguiling but I simply don’t accept it.

Which side were you on in the great poll-tax debate? Is it true, do you think, that its demise represented the triumph of political expediency over principle – its fairness was much trumpeted by government ministers at the time? 

I’ve always accepted that a mistake was made here. What threw ministers off their balance was the misconduct of a minority of councils who proved extremely difficult to bring to account; they were overspending, and they were doing it in such a way that there was no chance of their electorate throwing them out. The government was driven to the poll tax by a desire to produce the mechanism which would make a small minority of councils more accountable. Now, if you produce a large law fundamentally to deal with a minority problem you embark on a very dangerous course. The result was of course that they trapped both the good and the bad; everybody got it wrong. It was a brilliant idea on paper, but they failed to apply to it that acid test of practicality. If a law is not enforceable it is a bad law.

You were for many years part of the Peterborough column – really a high-class gossip column. Do you think you could have been a gossip columnist in the mould of Nigel Dempster, for example? 

I’m an admirer certainly. It really consists of knowing a tremendous number of people, and what is more it satisfies a tremendous human want. Provided it’s not malicious or libellous, there’s no great harm in tittle-tattle about people; it’s a service to journalism. I’m not prepared to be tendentious about Nigel Dempster or any of the other columns. I would be ill suited to them, partly because I prefer writing about things rather than people, and it’s not quite my cup of tea. But I wouldn’t be ashamed to do it.

Five years ago you accepted a peerage. There is some disquiet about the honours system in this country: so often such things seem rewards for political loyalty. Do you think this is fair in a democracy such as ours? 

I’ve had doubts about all prefixes in honours, that is to say anything that goes in front of somebody’s name. I think that suffixes, however, are rather different. I also believe that this country with a social revolution which has travelled much faster than most of us appreciate, is growing out of the honours system. The system as it’s now constructed has a limited life, but I would prefer to see the country grow out of it than have a swift termination. I find certain difficulties about the House of Lords because, for reasons I can only surmise, the temperature of the House of Lords is kept at the level of an intensive-care ward, and I find it very hard to concentrate my mind when I’m there. The heating arrangements are excessive, but that’s a purely personal problem.

I recall that you wrote somewhere that politics kept you apart from your son when he was young, and indeed he explained that he has avoided politics as a career partly because of the effect it might have on his own family. Have you ever regretted this side of things? 

I have in a way. Had I not had an admirable wife my children would have suffered. A great many children suffer through the excessive zeal of their families in public life, so I would think more carefully about it given my time again. In reality, and far beyond my deserts, my children do not seem to have been adversely affected by my preoccupation with public affairs. As for my son, he has made a considerably greater success of his life in journalism than I ever did and in fact is now in a position of responsibility in which politics are ruled out anyway.

Laurence Marks in a profile of you spoke of your ‘determination to keep the Telegraph independent of the Tory government it supports’. What does it mean to be independent in that context? 

Not to find yourself in the pocket of any minister, including the prime minister, of whom I was personally very fond but whose company I avoided in relation to anything to do with the Daily Telegraph. If I learned one thing before the war, apropos of the relationship between the foreign secretary and The Times at the time of Munich and relations between proprietors and ministers in the thirties, it was that there were great dangers in editors getting themselves too close to people in office. Once you are made a repository of a confidence, an invisible mechanism starts to work; you play it the way he would like to see it played and not the way you should play it. So I found as an editor it was imperative to be perfectly friendly with all ministers, to accept invitations, to go and talk to them, to be briefed by them, but it was important to keep a certain distance; that seemed to me as an editor to be the most important thing. I’m sure my successor, Max Hastings, does exactly the same thing so that editorial judgements are totally independent. It doesn’t matter what arises, you have made no commitment; you have no agreement, and you have no understanding with any minister, and you are therefore free to say ‘this is rubbish’.

Every decade had its own conflict. The sixties saw the evolution of so-called free love and student power – in England we had Tariq Ali and in France we had Daniel Cohn-Bendit; the seventies saw the emergence of feminism; the eighties saw Thatcherism at full throttle. The nineties bear witness to the beginning of the end of communism … where do you see the next conflict? 

Just when we think that the communist world has ended and the threat to our existence is diminished, we begin to worry ourselves – and rightly so – about certain faults and crevices which are beginning to appear in Western civilization. The big issue for us in the next decade is how to tackle very rapid and not altogether beneficial changes in our society. It’s almost impossible for ministers to interfere with certain courses which society takes, and in the ethical and moral field, I wonder how far we can depend on what Reginald Maudling when he was home secretary called the self-correcting mechanism. The really important political issue in the West is going to be to what extent government has a responsibility to interfere, and to what extent we are prepared to wait and see how far learning from our own mistakes will work. I put full confidence in the second, not much confidence in the ministers.

In my interview with Prime Minister Edith Cresson, which was published recently in the Observer, she caused a bit of a stir by suggesting that a large proportion of Anglo-Saxons are homosexuals. Although her claims are not based on any scientific research, would you not say it’s true that most Englishmen are not comfortable in the presence of women? 

Well, a proportion are certainly not. I can perhaps best answer by relating an experience when I was chairman of our home affairs committee. Mr Butler who was then shadow home secretary said to me: ‘Bill, I hope that you will be able to persuade our party to oppose the Abse bill’ (the legalizing of homosexuality). I think it’s the only time in my life I was perhaps right and Mr Butler, who has a magnificent intellect, wrong. I said, ‘Rab, bear in mind that altering the law will not be enough. People being what they are, this will be followed by a long and continuous campaign of self-justification.’ To be told that you are legal is not enough; you must also feel that you are socially acceptable. And indeed I think I have been proved right in this, for you will observe that the law as it stands is not enough and pressure is going to be put on the prime minister to alter it yet again. People are not content with finding themselves within the law, they are insistent upon a form of social equality. The homosexual today desires and indeed insists not only on equality in employment but in all department, that he should be regarded as – in Mrs Thatcher’s well known phrase – one of us.

But why do you think it is that many Englishmen are not very comfortable in the presence of women? 

In this country there has always been a sort of shyness between the two sexes. When I went to my first deb dances in London, there was always a certain reserve, but I don’t relate this to homosexuality about which my views are complex. I was in San Francisco not long ago and watched one of these gigantic marches of homosexuals protesting about the failure of the government to deal with their problems. It is jolly difficult at my age to avoid drawing any conclusions from certain phenomena. I fight against this very hard. If you are going to remain in active journalism , you don’t want to regard every symptom that you don’t like as a process of degeneration, but I do find this new phenomenon gives me pause, and I think that a world in which virtually everything has become socially acceptable is a world in which standards, frankly, have slipped. There is far more freedom for people to indulge in habits which twenty or thirty or forty years ago would have been regarded as socially unacceptable. The degree of tolerance which has entered our society is too high. There is a great struggle among the liberals in Hampstead as to the misuse of part of the Heath by homosexuals, and the liberal camp is divided. One set say they have every entitlement to do what they wish to do, another set of liberals say that they are interfering with the freedom of families who want to walk round with their children. I find that a very interesting conflict. But I do believe there is a lack of restraint in public behaviour today, and I’m not absolutely certain that this is an advance in a civilized nation.

Most people hate to grow old, yet old age brings maturity and often peace of mind … what are your own feelings on this? 

I count myself jolly lucky at my age to be kept actively working five days a week, because I’ve come to the conclusion that as you get older, you have to look at your mind, very much as when you’re young you attend to the fitness of your body. The great risk of old age, unless you exercise your mind, is that you become a tremendous bore to other people. There is a great tendency for your mind to close in on itself, and then all you really do is go on about the past. The great virtue of journalism is that it keeps your mind concentrated. People ask why I don’t write my memoirs. The practical reason, apart from the fact that I rather object to the idea anyway, is that I cannot possibly devote my mind to thinking of what’s going to happen tomorrow, which is, for journalistic purposes, essential, while half my mind is occupied with digging out what happened yesterday. And tomorrow on the whole keeps me fitter.

What weakness, if any, would you attribute to yourself? 

I really admire people who have a bit more dash about them. I’m cautious, over cautious. I do too much thinking before I leap. If I’m pushed into it I will take initiatives, but I suffer from a certain passivity. It sounds a rather odd thing to say, but every now and again I get mildly alarmed at the extent to which someone of my rather limited intellectual capacities has succeeded in doing certain things. I’ve done a certain amount of self-education but not nearly enough, and therefore my capacities are more limited than you might suppose and occasionally it looks to me as if I’m like one of these children who are accused of getting very easy A levels and that is how I’ve slipped through my life.

Cara at a Crossroads

Those who encourage Cara Delevingne to play the fool and burn the candle at both ends are certainly not her real friends.

She is no doubt the supermodel to reckon with at the moment and has amassed a large following of fans who monitor her every move and try to copy her exorbitant way of life – without taking into account the risk to their health and the wasteful time they spend on frivolities instead of seeking real opportunities on which to build and secure their future.

Cara might be exceptionally talented and have already accumulated a large fortune but remains vulnerable to the vicissitudes of time.

Her indulgence in every which way – whether it be in the fast lane of excesses and mindless disregard for the dangers that her lifestyle might inflict on her health, or her obvious sexual diversities which again signal a voracious inclination to give sway to every temptation that knocks at her door – will spell the making of impending serious problems.

I personally find Cara an impishly attractive young lady whose company I would cherish if I were not of a certain age, but as an admirer of her multi-coloured intrinsicality I would urge her against satiety, lest it burns her out and dims the prospects of achieving her greater potential.

I can’t wait to see her as an actress, for I am sure that being simpatico as she looks to be she will steal the hearts not only of her audience but also those who wish her well.

With such good fortune at her doorstep, it would be an utter prodigality to let it go to waste.

Is it Perhaps Terminal?

The number of independent bookshops closing in the UK has reached frighteningly high proportions, and this trend is likely to continue.

The total number of independents has already fallen below one thousand for the first time as a combination of Amazon, ebooks and high-street rent increases puts them out of business. Sixty-seven bookshops closed last year, leaving just 987 in the country, whereas in 2005 the number was 1,535. The figures were released by the Booksellers Association (BA) with the warning that the situation has reached crisis point.

Tim Godfray, the chief executive of the BA, said: ‘The book trade, the government and the general public need to realise that if we don’t take action now the future of our bookshops – and therefore the health of the publishing industry and reading itself – is at risk.’

Among the closures last year was the Lion & Unicorn bookshop in Richmond, London, which closed its doors after thirty-six years. It was one of the few booksellers in the UK devoted solely to children’s books and Roald Dahl was the guest of honour at its opening in 1977.

Amazon and other online retailers are held to be the chief reason behind the decline, along with supermarkets offering hefty discounts. The rise of e-readers such as Kindle has also played a part.

In addition, high rents are making life extremely difficult for shop owners – while parking charges are deterring customers. The BA said there was some reason to take heart – twenty-six independent bookshops opened last year – but unfortunately this year will see more closures.

The latest victim is the Ibis bookshop in Banstead which will close next month after seventy-six years. It is believed to be the oldest independent bookshop in the country. The owner, Linda Jones, said: ‘Customers had pledged £62,000 towards buying the lease in an attempt to keep the shop open and protect it from rising rents but it was not enough. Amazon has been our biggest problem. People don’t want to purchase from shops any more. It’s a different generation. I feel so angry about what they have done to our industry. Independent bookshops created a sense of community that Amazon cannot match.’ Ms Jones added: ‘People need to support bookshops. There is the ideology of “Oh isn’t it wonderful having the shops in our towns – it makes us look so cultured.” But still people shop on Amazon. If they don’t vote with their feet and walk into a bookshop then bookshops are not going to be there any more.’

This is definitely a cry for help. Can we as a cultured nation – at least I hope we are still – give up an essential part of our heritage and do away with bookshops for the sake of expediency, or for what we call technological advancement, that if not contained will rob us of the pleasure of having a book to hold, instead of watching a screen flickering with light painful to the eyes?

Kindle or no Kindle, give me a proper book any time, which I can look at and caress as if it were a beautiful woman. Who can, I may ask, tire from such a physical attachment?

Whoever said ‘let’s go back to basics’, perhaps, is half the fool we made him up to be.

Did He or Did He Not? That is the Question…

In the last two weeks the media have had a field day, showing my bête noir Tony Blair in a totally different light.

This time not as the controversial political leader who took Britain to war against Iraq, and not as the moneymaking ex-prime minister who scours the world in search of more opportunities to complement his vast wealth – but as an alleged lover, which he denies with his usual élan.

This side of Tony has never surfaced before in this context. Could he be a man of extraordinary powers whose wide scope of interest does not exclude the bedroom? His wife has testified to his considerable ability in the marital bed, even hinting to marathon lovemaking and an ability to achieve two more performances per night than his three electoral successes.

Well, the highly romantic Wendi Deng, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch whose maturity rivals Sally Bercow, is certainly guilty of a crush on our Tony in which she gushed like a smitten schoolgirl about his physical attributes. She went into manic details about his good body, his fine legs, his good skin, his piercing blue eyes, his power on the stage and how much she misses him. Obviously his sheer presence, if nothing else, has sent the woman into rhapsodic fervour if not sexual arousal which from the sound of things has loosened her tongue with indiscretions likely to cause him embarrassment or a bulging ego.

One may well ask if this latest twist in his varied activities will still enhance his profile, to demonstrate that nothing is beyond the reach of his magnetic field. In his secret meetings with Wendi timed when Rupert was not around, many subjects must have been broached which would have shed light on their mystifying encounters and the basis of their relationship.

If I were a fly on the wall I would possibly reconstruct the gist of their conversation as follows:

WENDI: ‘I’m so pleased you were able to come, my dear Tony. Dare I say I miss you terribly and that you remind me of the sort of man in my dreams I yearn for who will transport me to a heavenly enclave so rich in the fruits of eternal love.’

TONY: ‘The day I met you my dear Wendi I was quick to recognise something so endearing about you that I said to myself, “Be careful Tony, you are a happily married man with a loving family and a wife who said if I ever strayed she would cut off my penis.” I am in a quandary what to do. I miss you but I will equally be devastated if I were to lose my manhood. It would be a calamity.’

WENDI: ‘You are such a remarkable man. A doer in every sense of the word. A man of great principle who rescued Iraq from tyranny and brought peace and stability to the country, and as an ambassador of peace in the Middle East you continue to have a major role in bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis to the negotiating table.

But apart from all that, you’re a highly attractive man that women will invariably fall helplessly in love with. This love bug has not spared me and I hope that one day you, the man of my dreams, will miraculously lift me to horizons I have not so far negotiated.’

TONY: ‘You are a beautiful woman so poetically endowed with a romanticism that has always appealed to me. I find you irresistibly attractive but alas let our dreams be our escape route to bliss and, who knows, perhaps the future will be kinder to both of us, as I believe hope is the only answer in the predicament we find ourselves.’

WENDI: ‘To me you are a saintly person who sacrifices his life for the benefit of others. I will always hanker to be close to you so as the goodness enshrined in you will touch me gently and that touch will have such a sensual reaction to a pulsating body that can never forget the unforgettable.’

Tony was so overcome by her tender feelings that a sudden frisson of passion invaded his body and he decided to avert temptation and bid her farewell as he could no longer stand the overpowering desire of falling prey to a sinful outcome, being the good Catholic that he is.

Wendi, on the other hand – though stricken by her adulation – was somehow comforted by the old saying that love is a sweet torment. This, in the absence of the real thing, she hoped might have an orgasmic after effect to quench her burning desire.

Julia Ogilvy

1Julia Ogilvy, the author of Women in Waiting, can easily be described as a woman for all seasons.

I should know. She was my protégé when I was the CEO of the Asprey Group which included Garrard & Co. where Julia held the position of head of publicity.

I was so impressed by her commitment and hard work that at the tender age of twenty-seven I appointed her managing director of Hamilton & Inches in Edinburgh.

My board of directors doubted my wisdom of elevating such a young lady to run an august establishment where traditional values gained over the years were its most bankable assets.

However, I would not be deterred and Julia proved not only up to the challenge but turned the institution into the most successful purveyors of jewellery and luxury goods in Scotland.

Her book about the prejudice at the heart of the church against women is the sort of campaign Julia would passionately espouse, for she sees it as strongly as I do that women are not only the equal of men but have additional qualities more humane and compassionate than perhaps those of the opposite gender.

As the blurb of the book indicates, the role of women in the Christian church is now the subject of heated debate.


In her powerful book Julia interviews twelve of the most notable Christian women of our time providing a telling and often shocking analysis of the situation today. The women – from the Dean of York and the Presiding Bishop in America to Helena Kennedy QC and Dr Elaine Storkey – share some of the pain, disappointment and hurt they have experienced and reflect on the impact of a patriarchal church on the suffering of women across the world. Their stories are very different but they all share a remarkable faith, humility and determination to fulfil their own calling. Each one is an inspiration to women everywhere and provides a unique insight into the role of the leader in any profession.

You must read this outstanding book, which reveals that prejudice against women in the church is as strong as it has ever been.

Julia Ogilvy has never done things in half measures. Buy a copy of the book, which I earnestly recommend,  read it and you will no doubt thank me for drawing your attention to it.

Published by Bloomsbury, £12.99

Hugh Trevor–Roper

The recent publication, and its grand critical reception, of a collection of one hundred letters by Hugh Trevor-Roper – edited by Richard Davenport-Hines and Adam Sisman, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the historian’s birth – has brought to mind my own memories of interviewing him in 1992, and its surprising aftermath.

At the time, Lord Dacre (he was made a life peer by Mrs Thatcher in 1979) was still pilloried in some quarters for his association with the Murdoch press and the forged Hitler Diaries fiasco. But his reputation as an exceptional writer of English prose and a fiercely independent thinker has only continued to grow since his death in 2003. This wonderful collection is a well-deserved tribute to a man of outstanding intellectual depth.

He wrote me a number of letters, in his beautiful script, once recalling our interview and paying me a wonderful compliment: ‘What a wide range of entrepreneurial activities you command!’ he said. ‘In spite of which you are by far the best – the most professional – of interviewers!’ He even, despite his often excessive workload, agreed to Auberon Waugh’s request that he review my collection of interviews, More of a Certain Age, for the Literary Review.

Under its subheading – ‘Who is This Subtle Man Who Asks the Questions?’ – he began with a mild warning: ‘If you are to be interviewed by Mr Naim Attallah, do not suppose that you will get off with easy answers, for he comes well briefed and will press you hard.’ But he also tempers such possible advice with the gentle observation that those who ‘bare their souls’ do so to ‘so perceptive and sympathetic an inquisitor’. His final paragraph was the kindest cut of all: ‘In the end, one of the most interesting persons in these discussions is Mr Attallah…’

Reading this latest selection of his letters has reminded me once again of what I consider is one of my most compelling interviews.

 Why exactly did you choose the title Dacre? I gather it upset the wife of William Douglas-Home who already had the title Lady Dacre and is a baroness in her own right. 

That is right. I chose it after consulting the Garter King of Arms. It was a title which had been in my family, so Garter considered it was reasonable for me to take it, provided it was differentiated by being of something. And so it became Lord Dacre of Glanton.

Did you predict that you would upset Lady Dacre by choosing that title? 

No. Time was short but I rang her up and asked her if she had any objections. She said she had none, so I went ahead. Parliament was going into recess and it therefore had to go through at once, so once she had agreed I told the Garter, and it was duly registered. By the time she expressed second thoughts it was too late. When I reminded her that she had had no objection, she said that she had been suffering from mussel poisoning at the times and hadn’t really been herself. We had a correspondence afterwards which was at times animated, but in the end she wrote me a very charming letter and peace was restored.

You have spent most of your life in the universities. There is quite a lot of talk at present about grading universities in such a way that only some of them do research. To an outsider the whole idea of research in, say, Greek noun phrases or the negative in Middle English seems a strange one. What is it for in your view? 

Knowledge does not advance on any front without research. A university without a research side is like a hospital which has no teaching branch to it; it tends to stay put. You make a legitimate point in that some subjects are not worth researching into; research can become a fetish and like all professional subjects it is in danger of over-professionalization, with academics writing for other academics on smaller and smaller topics. That is an inherent danger in any research unless it is carefully controlled. People build empires out of research and sometimes the conquests are not worth making. But research is the basis of a university; otherwise it is simply a school.

What sort of duties did you undertake during the war? I know that you were with the security service, but what did that entail? 

You must know I’m subject to the new official secrets act. However, I can say that I came to be in the security service by accident, that is to say I came to work on the activities of the German secret service, which was not what was intended for me. My superior officer and I discovered and identified the radio communications of the German secret service which created a great convulsion in the intelligence world. We were then moved into the secret service proper, and from then on we became an essential part of the business of reading and working out the organization of the German intelligence services.

Among you colleagues in the security service was Kim Philby. It rather undermines one’s confidence to discover that our security service not only catches spies but recruits them. How were people recruited in those days? To an outsider it all has the air of ‘there’s this chap I know’, and so many turned out to be duds. 

I think it is true that at the beginning of the war and before, the secret intelligence service, MI6 was recruited on a personal basis by people of rather limited experience. They couldn’t advertise of course, and the people chosen were not always ideal. Accidents happened.

In your own case, how were you recruited? 

I was recruited because of the work which we had already done. The secret service judged it essential to keep control of this work which had been done outside the secret service, and therefore I was moved as part of an organizational change. I was not chosen personally.

But how did this work start in the first place? 

Accidentally. I was drafted at first and had a territorial commission. We were given a task which had nothing whatever to do with intelligence but by chance we made a huge discovery. To begin with no one would take it seriously, and consequently my superior officer and I worked on it in the evenings privately in our flat which we shared, and we deciphered the messages. It was a very simple cipher and I’m not claiming any great achievement, but once it was realized that we had discovered the operations of the German secret service, there was quite a storm. We were severely rebuked for making the discovery, and even more so for having deciphered it.

How do you think people ought to be recruited for such services? Is there, do you think, any way of ensuring loyalty, or at any rate of limiting the damage of disloyalty? 

I don’t know of any infallible test which would exclude the wrong people. I myself was astonished when Philby joined SIS. I was already there and was surprised to hear people talk with great enthusiasm about his appointment. I knew that Philby had been a communist.

You knew then? 

Yes, but I was wrong as everybody else, only in a different way. Lots of people, my friends included, had been communists at university, but it was not taken seriously. It was a passing phase, and it all evaporated at the time of the Russo-German pact. I considered that our superior officers in the security service were often unreasonable, seeing reds under the bed all the time, and turning down clever people on the grounds that they had left-wing views. When Philby joined I was rather glad someone had got through the net. It never occurred to me that he was a communist still, even less that he would be a communist spy. So we were all mistaken on this. Recruiting policy, however, was not the only thing that kept able people out. It wasn’t a job in the usual sense, in that you couldn’t talk about your work, not even to your wife, it was not well paid because the budget was small, you disappeared in the morning, came back in the afternoon, and it led nowhere. It was not a very glamorous job unless you lived in a world of fantasy, in the Bulldog Drummond, Philip Oppenheim kind of world, which of course some of them did. People were therefore chosen out of a rather limited pool; they generally had some money of their own and they often lacked normal ambition. I was pretty censorious about them at the time, though I came to perceive the difficulties inherent in the situation. Nowadays of course recruitment is on a different basis; it’s no longer done in clubs.

If money was not the motivating factor, did people join for a sense of adventure? 

I suppose it was adventure of a kind, at least for people who joined in peacetime. In wartime we didn’t so much join as end up there. I made a distinction between the armatures and the professionals. The armatures thought, and were blamed for thinking, in short terms; we wanted to win the war and we had no long-term aims, but the grandees of the service tended to regard the war as an inconvenient interruption and were determined not to allow the amateurs to burst the system. Philby was obviously determined to stay a professional, and he played the professional game. We made nuisances of ourselves since we didn’t care if we were kicked out, but Philby didn’t cause trouble; he was ingratiating and very competent. I don’t think he did us any harm during the war. He did afterwards, but if he did pass information to the Russians during the war, they either had it anyway, or they didn’t use it. I doubt if he actually did anything dangerous or contrary to British policy or aims during the war.

Setting aside the war, how much harm do you think Philby, Blunt and company actually did? 

It’s difficult to be sure in concrete terms. One can of course say that they gave a bad name to their service, they spread distrust and suspicion and did a great deal of harm within their own world, the society to which they belonged. They certainly damaged the aims and interests of the British government and the West as they were at that time. It is possible, for example, that Albania would not have fallen so completely into the communist grip if it hadn’t been for Philby revealing the operations of the SIS or the CIA. Equally, you can look back on it and say, well, perhaps it wasn’t decisive after all, perhaps the CIA and SIS operations were rather madcap. Some people were killed, but then Philby would have said that the secret service involves everybody taking risks, and it’s the luck of the game. Another thing Philby did quite early on was to prevent the exposure of the Russian espionage system in Britain. There was a Russian defector to Istanbul called Ivanov who offered to provide the British government with the names of the Russian agents operating in the British intelligence world. If that information had reached the right people it would have exposed Blunt, Philby, Burgess and Maclean at an early date, but Philby had got himself into the position of being able to take charge of the matter. He obviously informed the Russians, who kidnapped Ivanov and he’s never been heard of since. There’s no doubt that he was shot. In this way Philby protected himself and the others from exposure.

When you reflected on why it should have been Cambridge rather than Oxford that produced communist spies in the 1930s you blamed a certain puritan high-mindness, but in itself that is surely no bad thing. What was it that narrowed that outlook to the point of treason? 

I don’t know. Supposing there had been a high-powered Russian recruiter operating in Oxford, can I be sure that he wouldn’t have found Philbys there? I honestly can’t answer that. That puritanism, however, that extraordinary self-satisfaction which I do ascribe to Cambridge is lacking in Oxford. People don’t take themselves so seriously at Oxford. Cambridge people issue writs against each other inside the university, which I find laughable. There is a world in Cambridge which takes itself extremely seriously, and if you do that, it’s a stage nearer deciding that your conscience is more imperative than convention, humanity and loyalty to the government. It’s that kind of high-mindedness which I ascribe to Cambridge.

The present government’s determination to maintain secrecy at every level appears to many people to be perverse. Do you think it right that the defence of national interests should be barred in that anyone who has gone through ‘the proper channels’ with suspicions about Philby or Maclean or Blunt would have got nowhere? 

Many people have found their way round these restrictions; sometimes they do it by going through the proper channels and sometimes they do it by knowing how to create interest in the right quarters. For all I know it may sometimes be done with official encouragement. I hold the view that most secrets are in print if you know where to look for them, and half the time the secrecy rules are merely a means of preventing the public knowing what is already known to the foreign governments from which ostensibly is being concealed. For instance, during the war, and indeed until recently, one couldn’t even name the head of the British secret service, nor could people say that anyone was in it, yet the entire professional staff of the secret service was known by name in Germany and had been publicised in the German press in October 1939. I have seen it for myself and they were all named.

Were they accurate? 

Absolutely accurate, and I know exactly how they came by the names. Right at the beginning of the war agents from the German secret service lured two British secret-service officers in the Netherlands to the frontier under the pretence of being the representatives of an anti-Hitler group. They then kidnapped them by force and carried them off to Berlin. The British officers were kept prisoner throughout the war, and under interrogation they revealed all the facts. When I was in Berlin in 1945 I found in the ruins of the Gestapo headquarters a secret document which set out the structure of the British intelligence services and ascribed its knowledge, some of which was coloured by German fantasy, to these two men. But MI6 knew perfectly well that all their names had been blown away because Himmler, after the seizure of these two officers, had made a public speech about information received, and this was then reported in the German press.

Of course I can see that one doesn’t want to encourage too much curiosity into the operations of the secret service which, whatever one says about it, does have its useful functions – we live in a world of terrorism after all – but I do think it’s carried too far and that the secret services tend to breed within themselves a separation from reality. I’ve known several cases of people who have simply become fantasists, and Peter Wright of course is an instance. A kind of mania can develop, a paranoia, a sort of mini-McCarthyism which feeds on itself.

Why do you think the government went to such lengths to ban Wright’s book? 

I cannot say. I think it was mad, but I don’t know where the move came from. I suppose it grew gradually and was probably a question of pride. They started by thinking they could stop it at a lower level without any fuss, and then when that failed, they had to stop it at a slightly higher level. But it was absurd, because he lived outside the jurisdiction and he could publish outside the jurisdiction.

Do you think fascism has really been put behind us? The neo-Nazi movement seems to be gaining ground in an alarming way now. 

People are misled by words. What is meant by fascism? Fascism and Nazism were quite different, although fascism was taken prisoner by Nazism in the course of the war. Mussolini’s regime was not anti-Semitic until it fell under German control, yet anti-Semitism was absolutely central to German Nazism. They are different movements with different origins, and yet we call them both fascism. Since I’m something of a pedant, I like words to be used so that one can argue on the basis of them, and therefore they must be used accurately. I believe that the movements we knew in the 1930s which reached their head in the war are dead, because they were inseparable from a particular political conjuncture which is now over and which will never be repeated in the same form. If by fascism we mean the Italian fascism of Mussolini, and if by Nazism we mean the German Nazism of Hitler with its total philosophy and aims, they cannot happen again. But if we use the terms in a vulgar way, meaning thuggary, right-wing xenophobia, brutality, stamping on the lower classes and so on, that is a far more generalized thing, and is liable to break out at any time.

At present there are some historians, such as David Irving, suggesting that Nazi atrocities were either the result of Allied propaganda or were grossly exaggerated. Will it ever be possible, do you think, to rewrite history, given the pressures for European unity? 

Assuming that Europe, whether united or disunited, remains liberal, and that we have free press and free exchange of information, I don’t think that historical revisionism of that kind is possible. History is always being revised, but it’s revised from within rational norms; when we have more evidence, and different documents are produced, we see things from a slightly different point of view, but assuming a certain honesty in the historical profession, that is not a sign of perversity, it’s just a sign of what is always happening.

But isn’t history largely a matter of interpretation? 

Yes, but what historians call historical revision is reinterpretation of agreed objective evidence, whereas what people like David Irving are trying to do is to rewrite history in defiance of the evidence. They thereby exploit legitimate revisionism in order to argue a political thesis, which in my opinion is unarguable. Their interpretations are scandalous, not honest.

Do you think the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during the war could have been exaggerated? 

In the First World War there had been atrocity-mongering which afterwards was proved to have been false, and therefore there were people during the Second World War who did not believe all the talk of atrocities which they fully expected to be disproved afterwards. But one of the advantages of the Nuremberg trials was that it put the evidence on the record in a way in which it couldn’t be contested. After the First World War the victorious allies didn’t occupy Germany, they didn’t change the government of Germany, they didn’t confiscate or even have access to German secret documents, and therefore the Germans were able to build up the theory of the stab in the back, the myths on which Nazism afterwards fed. In 1945 it was different: Germany was totally defeated and occupied, documents were seized and trials were held, and whatever one may say about the trials, the fact is that all the documents that were produced were put to the court and could be ruled illegitimate or irrelevant. The defence had lawyers whose business it was to disprove allegations if they could, and no German historian has suggested that the documents used at Nuremberg were not valid documents. The evidence is public and has been agreed and cannot be contested, and that is the great difference between the post-1945 position in relation to history and the post-1918 position. So I don’t think that revisionism which exploits the mood of incredulity or the desire for European unity, or the wish to forget the past to the extent of negating well-established and undeniable facts, I don’t think that is a possibility now.

I gather you read Mein Kampf in the original when you worked for intelligence. What sort of impression did it make on you at the time? 

That’s not quite true. I read Mein Kampf in German in 1938 as a consequence of an article by Ensor, a very able historian, who had been prophesying that there would be a major international crisis resolved either by European war or by a climbdown by the West in the autumn of 1938. One thing he said was that the beginning of wisdom in international affairs was to read Mein Kampf, and that it had to be read in German because it was not fully translated. People at that time tended to regard Hitler as a mere froth-blowing demagogue, nasty, but slightly comic, whereas Ensor was claiming he was very dangerous. That article decided me to read Mein Kampf in the original. I could see it was the work of a man with a powerful mind who had already achieved much of what he had threatened to achieve and showed no signs of weakness of any kind. It was a coherent ideology, a horrible one but nevertheless coherent and I decided that it was serious. And I became rather serious myself in consequence; I’d led rather a frivolous life up to that time, but I reckoned then that we were in for a war. I did not believe as many others did that Hitler was a clown, a mere adventurer. He was a gangster, though not only a gangster; he was a dangerous and effective political force.

How do you view someone like Lady Diana Mosley who admired Hitler and believes that many of the atrocities attributed to him are not possible? 

She is one of those people who think that because somebody is polite and considerate to her personally, he can’t possibly be a criminal. The world is full of people who are conned by confidence tricksters, ladies who listen to honeyed words and can’t imagine such a nice person having another side to him. I once wrote a review of an article about Goebbels, and she wrote a letter of protest, saying how monstrously I had misrepresented Goebbels. She said she had often dined with Goebbels and his wife who were such kind hosts and conversation was so agreeable and they lived in quite modest style. It was the same with Hitler. I’m afraid she’s just a gull, as was her sister Unity.

Do you think the last war was the inevitable outcome of the Versailles Treaty? 

The Treaty of Versailles provided the excuse. The real reason was that the Germans did not believe that they were defeated. They were of course defeated, but there’s a difference between defeat and reorganizing defeat. The ruling classes maintained that they have been deprived of victory; and in the spring of 1918, just as in 1940, they considered they had won the war, and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t then surrender. And then suddenly at the end of 1918, they were totally defeated, which came as a great shock. The entire organization of propaganda, the doctoring of documents, even before Hitler, shows that they were determined that this be rectified. They needn’t have done it by war; they could have tried to build up German power and negotiate from strength. But Hitler wanted war; he was an all-or-nothing man, and he was determined that it could be done only in his lifetime. It was the same argument used in 1914, that Russia was going to be too powerful and that the social basis of Germany had to be changed. This is where anti-Semitism comes in. Hitler’s complaint in Mein Kampf is that the Kaiser’s Germany was a Byzantine Judaized aristocratically-run incompetent Germany; it had all the German virtues of racial and military strength, if only it had been properly led. In order to be sure of victory this useless aristocracy had to be eliminated and replaced by an organization based on blood. He really believed in race and blood, and elimination of the Jews. According to Hitler the social structure had to be changed in order to liberate the full energies of Germany and then, led by him, they could win. That was the real cause of the war, in my opinion.

What do you consider the origin of anti-Semitism to be. Is there a definitive historical explanation, or is it specifically religious and cultural? 

I’ve thought a good deal about this, and I’m sure that it is not religious. In the Middle Ages there was anti-Semitism in Germany and in Spain, and it was religiously based. The Jews were the people who had crucified Christ and had refused to accept Christianity, and were consequently public enemy no. 1. But in the eighteenth century this sectarian attitude dissolved with the weakening of religion and religious persecution; and yet anti-Semitism didn’t disappear. In the nineteenth century it revived with vengeance and adapted to an industrial society, this time not for religious reasons at all, but on the basis of blood. This was equally irrational, because there is no such thing as Jewish blood. The only way you can define a Jew is by religion. Hitler had no interest in religion, Jewish or Christian. His problem was how to identify Jews among German lawyers or German police, or indeed Germans in general. It was simple when Jews had come in from Poland, for example, and were called Moses or Abraham, but among Germans how could you distinguish who was a Jew and who wasn’t? The only way to distinguish them was by religion; and in this way we have the phenomenon that anti-Semitism survives its particular explanations. Different rationalizations are produced at different times, but one has to ask, what is the real basis of it? My own theory is that it is the determination inherent in the human race to find a scapegoat for one’s misfortunes, particularly in an unassimilable group in society. They may be religious dissenters, they may be as in the witch craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, people who just don’t mix, who don’t fit in, who make their neighbours uncomfortable, who seem to belong to a different world. Any minority group is liable to persecution, even genocide. Often the unassimilable group is relatively prosperous, like the Armenians, or Parsees in India, or the Ismailis in East Africa, or even the Quakers in England; they’re shut in on themselves, perhaps they don’t even try to become assimilated, so they concentrate on business and they become rich, and in turn they become envied. The Jews single themselves out, and they fit into all these categories, and that is my explanation.

 I believe you covered the Eichmann trial for the Sunday Times. Did you undertake the work as a historian, or was it primarily a journalistic assignment? 

I was asked to go by the Sunday Times and was glad to do so for my own education. (I had attended the Nuremberg Trials, and I afterwards attended the Auschwitz Trials in Frankfurt.) I was interested both in the revelations in the evidence, and in the procedure. I had been in Israel before and was interested to see the way in which the Israelis would handle the trial.

Your historical researches have covered a number of periods. Which has given you the most satisfaction? 

Although I have studied and written about Nazi Germany, it does not give me satisfaction. I find it in some ways a repulsive subject and I have not allowed myself to be tied to it. If I’m an expert in anything I suppose it is sixteenth-and seventeenth-century history, but I don’t really think in ‘periods’. I came to the conclusion at one time that political history is really rather small beer; seeing people digging deeper and deeper into a petty cabinet crisis in eighteenth-century English politics – I found that poor stuff. Humanity does not live for this, I thought, and I gradually found myself more drawn to intellectual history. So rather than being interested in a particular period, I’m interested in a particular side of history, the intellect of man rather than the politics. I consider that intellectual history is not separable from its context in practical history; that is to say, ideas do not develop out of previous ideas. This is falsely maintained by professional intellectual historians who, as it were, follow an idea from one generation to another as if people read the books of their predecessors but didn’t live in the context of the present. I’m Marxist to the extent that I would allow that ideas are conditioned by the context, which means that one is going to understand the intellectual views of this century, and the same is true of any other century.

I understand that your political antennae were developed in the thirties but gradually your imagination was captured more by academic rather than political intrigue. How did this come about? 

I find this a rather offensive question. It implies that I am only interested in ‘intrigue’ and merely changed direction within that constant. I am not interested in intrigue. If I have occasionally found myself in controversy it has always been open – perhaps too open for my own good (but that, in my opinion, is because I am a victim of the media!) My answer to the substantive question – how did I come to prefer academic to political life (not intrigue) is quite simple. I was an undergraduate at a very political college – several of my friends and several of the dons went into politics – and I did at one time think of a political career. Munich made politics very actual to me. But then came the war; and during the war I decided that my real interest was in literature and the study of history. I also valued my independence, or perhaps my ease. The thought of constituents, ‘surgeries’, public meetings, party conferences, whips (not to say scorpions) repelled me. I also loved country life and shrank from smoke-filled rooms in London. I’m afraid I was rather indolent in those days.

You are a distinguished historian, so I ask this question rather diffidently. Why does history matter? I can see that chemistry, physics, medicine, computer technology, agriculture, even perhaps psychology, have real consequences, but history seems to fall into a different category. By the time we meditate on the past it’s all over. The study of literature may make us aware of the way language is used to manipulate, but it sometimes seems as if the clashing opinions of historians only catalogue possible past mistakes… 

I agree with Gibbon who says that history is little else than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. I nevertheless think that it is worth studying because I think that nations are conditioned even though they may not recognize this by their history. If one cuts oneself off from one’s history, one is losing a capacity to understand the present, or indeed perhaps the future, not that anyone can understand the future but at least you can speculate. I also think that the study of history enriches the study of thought and art and literature. If somebody totally ignorant of his history goes round a picture gallery, let us say, and relies entirely on his aesthetic sense, his appreciation is entirely different. I’m not saying that paintings should be studied solely as historical documents, because obviously they have an aesthetic quality which transcends that context, but I do think that appreciation is deepened and made intelligent and articulate by an understanding of history.

Historians are constrained by facts, but even in the selection of which facts to highlight, there is a degree of interpretation involved. Since interpretation is necessarily subjective, do you think there can be such a thing as a correct perspective in history? 

No, and indeed I don’t want to be. Interest in history really depends to a large extent on the problems which it raises, and the idea that it can be reduced to a science as people thought about 1900 (and the Marxist continue to maintain) is very perverse in my opinion. The attempts to reduce it to a science have all failed and now look very ridiculous. History is made up of continued pressures and options and mistakes. At every point in history there are decisions to be made; decisions can be wrong in a technical sense, I will allow this, if they are simply impossible in the context of the times, but one cannot say that there are no alternatives, that there is a course specifically plotted, because there is no such course. And indeed that is the interest of it; that is what makes it a living subject, not a dead subject.

What is your view of the relationship between history and biography. Are they very different animals, or can they be ‘cross bred’? 

I think they can be cross bred. A biography reduced to mere biography would be a very jejune affair. Of course I can envisage a biography of some unimportant shoemaker in Nottingham simply describing his life in shoemaking, but that’s not of great moment. He may be a very worthy person but it’s not of much interest. But the greatness of an intellectual or artistic figure depends on his response to his times. You can’t detach the biography altogether from the context.

There has been rather disturbing work done in France in recent years which seems to undermine the legitimacy of history. I’m thinking of the views of men like Jacques Derrida and Foucault. Is there any answer to the charge that we make history in our own image? 

I think this is a defeatist view. We write history in a more social way than that, we test our arguments against other people’s arguments, whether in books or in discussion. Obviously there are subjective interpretations, but honest historians try to discover an objectivity. I’m afraid I’m not in love with Derrida and Foucault.

It would not be too far from the truth to say that you are anti-clerical. Is it that you think priests hypocrites or fools? 

I’d have you know that I am a doctor of divinity. I don’t think I’m particularly anti-clerical, but I’ve long ago given up thinking what I am. People say that I’m so many different things that I’ve decided to let them say it. It’s true I don’t like folly combined with persecution, and I can’t take theological doctrine very seriously. I regard it as at best legitimate myth to which one pays lip service but one doesn’t engage one’s mind with it. I find it rather absurd when the clergy involve themselves with abstruse doctrines, when they give themselves airs and try to dictate to us or to persecute us or to persecute each other; then I’m anti-clerical I daresay, but I don’t feel anti-clerical.

Are you a believer? 

I think the answer is no. If you mean, do I believe the content of the Athanasian Creed, no I certainly don’t. Do I believe in the Virgin Birth, certainly not.

Do you believe in God? 

I’m a sort of eighteenth century deist really. I would adopt the position of Voltaire and Gibbon.

My research would seem to indicate you are anti-Catholic … and that you reserve a particular dislike for convert to Catholicism. 

The great Lord Halifax, George Savile, said at the end of the seventeenth century that the impudence of a bawd is modesty compared with that of a convert. I often think of this when I meet certain converts. They also tend to revile the church from which they have been converted, which is a form of intolerance I dislike. I was fairly anti-Catholic at the time when the Catholic Church was ruled by Pope Pius XI, whom I regarded as one of the more disastrous figures of this century. The Papacy was responsible for the dictatorship of both Mussolini and Hitler. I know that is a very serious charge, but it is one I can document. If it hadn’t been for the activity of Pope Pius XI in suddenly forbidding priests to take part in politics, thereby wrecking the Christian Democrat Party, Mussolini would not have been able to take power in Italy, And if it hadn’t been for his persuading the Centre Party in Germany to vote for the Enabling Act which gave Hitler his dictatorial powers, he could not have become a legitimate dictator. The Papacy wanted to get a concordat with Italy and Germany which it would never have achieved if it had had to operate through a liberal government dependent on a parliament containing agnostics, protestants and so on; but it could do a bargain with a dictator. Of course Hitler and Mussolini both broke the concordants, but the Papacy was silly in making them; it should have realized it was dealing with crooks.

But do you see a role for the church in politics nowadays? 

I think the church’s intervention in day-to-day politics is generally disastrous. I sometimes listen in the House of Lords to bishops making speeches on subjects about which they seem to me to know very little. I draw a veil over that; there’s quite enough for the church to do outside politics.

They should be saving souls, you mean… 

Precisely, though saving souls is a metaphor. I don’t mean that they should be forcing their particular doctrines on people.

There have surely been good men and women who drew their strength from their faith. Why do you think so many people turn to religion? The Soviet Union tried to suppress it for seventy years without success. 

People come to the conclusion, which is a legitimate one, that the purpose of life is not political orthodoxy, not even political success, that politics and public life contain a great deal of ambition and hypocrisy, and that if we have a purpose in life it should be rather higher. We have at times to think of what are vulgarly called higher things, and religion is a kind of distillation of one’s loftier aspirations; the trouble is that it is distilled into such an extraordinary crystallized from that is difficult to take, or it becomes sectarianism, or a sort of conventional sanctimonious church-going. To put it bluntly, I think that one needs an awareness of a metaphysical dimension in order not to be absorbed in what may be at best dreary and at worst dishonourable courses.

 Do you think that your attitudes towards religion ever put you at a disadvantage professionally? I am thinking of occasions such as attendance at conferences like the proposed one at the Vatican on Eastern Europe. 

It has never occurred to me that my views on religion were objectionable or even eccentric. I am not irreligious. I do not believe, with Freud, that religion is an ‘illusion’ which can be ‘ended’ by psychoanalysis. Rather, I regard psychoanalysis as a superstitious illusion. I consider that a sense of religion is necessary to a complete man: it is a framework giving metaphysical coherence to the natural and mortal world, the primitive myths which it retains having been converted into metaphor. Of course I do not believe these myths – who does? – but I am happy to accept them as metaphors representing the mysteries of nature and the human condition, insoluble as intellectual problems. I regard theology – the attempt to create a system out of these myths – as absurd: an absolute historical curiosity; but I get on perfectly well with (sensible) clergy, whom I regard with respect as a useful body of men – provided they don’t pontificate or persecute.

You’re a conservative, but of what sort? Are you an old Macmillan conservative with what one might call a sense of obligation, or one of the newer Thatcherite type? 

I can’t quite answer that. I approve of Mrs Thatcher in as much as I think she saw that a moment had come when consensus had been turned into a continuing slide of appeasement; it was no longer a consensus from a position of rationality and strength. I was therefore in favour of her strong measures. On the other hand, I think there is an unacceptable side of Thatcherism, a kind of ruthlessness which I find unattractive.

So you’re more of a Macmillan conservative? 

I am, but Harold Macmillan did sell the past in a way. He believed, or behaved as if he believed, that one could always go on yielding a bit more for the sake of consensus, but consensus is a game at which two have to play, otherwise it loses its reality. If the trade unions on one side believe in pursuit of power at the expense of consensus, then it’s got to stop. I was a director of The Times when it was losing millions and faced ruin. The unions were totally unappeasable, and what were described euphemistically as ‘old Spanish practises’ were rife – people drawing salaries under false names for no work, and so on. They thought they had the management in their hands and that somehow this gravy train would go on for ever, on the grounds that the Thomson Organisation which was then in charge was so rich from its other activities that it would go on paying this Danegeld for ever. Rupert Murdoch turned that round by being as rough to the unions as the unions had been rough to the Thomson Organisation. I think a consensus has to depend on a willingness of both sides to consent, and that had been sacrificed in the Macmillan period.

You have a reputation for being something of a dandy… 

Oh really? My wife would be very surprised to hear me described as a dandy. I did read somewhere that I gave a tutorial in hunting clothes, but it is a complete myth.

Is it fair to say you are a social climber? 

I don’t think so. I like intelligent people really. I have moved in bits of the beau monde, that I admit.

Would you consider yourself a snob? 

Yes, I am in a way. Except that I don’t take it seriously. I think snobbism is a harmless affectation. To say that somebody is a snob tout court is not an offensive thing; it’s rather like saying that somebody is interested in going to race meetings. I’m interested in going to race meetings. I’m interested in the diversity of humankind, but yes, I quite like sophisticated parties.

Well, that’s no sin. In 1957 when you gave your inaugural lecture as regius professor of History, I understand that a notice appeared on the board to the effect that your lecture was cancelled and that A.J.P. Taylor was lecturing in your place. This was presumably symptomatic of the animosity and rivalry between you … what was the origin of those feelings? 

First of all, it isn’t true. It was entirely invented by the press, and Alan Taylor objected to it as much as I did. We were always friends and we differed only on the thesis of his book The Origins of the Second World War. The book became a succès de scandale and because I’d reviewed it critically I had to appear on television with him and the whole thing was blown up by the press. Alan and I both got very bored by it. There was an issue about which we dissented, as scholars are entitled to dissent from each other, but the rest is a myth.

But was he expected to be appointed at the time instead of you? 

Well, yes. It is true that Alan was tipped, and, being a vain man, he believed he was really entitled to it. This was what surprised me about Alan: generally speaking he adopted a tolerant attitude towards history, he accepted that everything is chance, anything can happen, there is no directing purpose in it, that things always turn out differently from what is expected – this was really his basic, rather nihilistic philosophy. But the one point where he failed to apply it was to his own history. Deducing from his general historical attitudes I would have expected Alan to say, well I expected to be made regius professor, but the right person is never appointed, things never turn out as we expect, well, that’s how things go … but he never applied this attitude to himself. He considered that he was entitled to the chair, that he was the most distinguished person in the running and that it was a miscarriage of justice. But he never blamed me for this; he blamed Harold Macmillan. Later he said he would not have accepted it from this hand stained with the blood of Suez.

Talking of Harold Macmillan, what prompted you to promote him as candidate for the chancellorship of Oxford in opposition to Lord Franks? Did you not feel that it would be interpreted as a quid pro quo? After all he had appointed you. 

I don’t really care about what people say, but I certainly didn’t like the way Maurice Bowra had pushed through the nomination of Franks (whom I respect). After Lord Halifax died, the vice chancellor took ill, and Maurice became acting vice chancellor. Maurice was a bully, quite an agreeable bully, but a bully nevertheless, and he always fought to win. He summoned a meeting of the heads of houses who were all very feeble, and he simply railroaded Franks through. I wasn’t there, of course, but I had full accounts, and Maurice was so determined to get his candidate appointed that he simply vetoed other names in his brutal way. When Lord Salisbury was mentioned, for example, Maurice said, ‘He’s no friend to this university,’ and moved on to the next man. Harold Macmillan, who after all was prime minister, a distinguished man and a scholar, a man of intellectual interests who would have been very suitable , was never even mentioned. I thought that this was improper. I had means of communicating with Harold who was in South Africa at the time, and I asked him if he would be willing to stand. He sent back a message to me, saying, ‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure. I shall not shrink from the contest.’ Those were his very words. It was a very enjoyable contest.

Was it a real battle?

It was rather a good battle because Harold won, yet it was not humiliating for Franks. And Maurice Bowra was furious. There was no nonsense about a secret ballot, and he sat there receiving the votes, examining each one, and either scowling or beaming.

Do you ever regret going to Peterhouse? 

That’s a difficult question. On the whole I value experience what I learn from it. I learned something at Peterhouse, and I made many friends there, especially among the scientists, but I’d rather not say too much about Peterhouse.

Peterhouse is well known for reaffirming the importance of high politics and intellectual movement against the fashionable concerntration on the grass roots and the masses. Is this something you applaud? 

No. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable point of view, but in Peterhouse it was combined with politics so reactionary that I found them both ridiculous and rather offensive.

People have said of you that in the background of your life and career there lurks a book, the magnum opus that you didn’t write. Is that something that worries you? 

Not greatly. I would like to have written a great work … who wouldn’t … but when I consider historical writing I see that it very quickly perishes and if it’s any good it is boiled down into an article. Students of history have not read the books that they talk about; they’ve only read concentrations of the argument.

You were, I believe, the author of the wonderfully funny series in the Spectator under the pseudonym Mercurious Oxoniensis. 

I know nothing about Mercurious.

You weren’t involved in it at all? 

I’ve heard people suggest I was involved, but I’ve never acknowledged it.

But you were the author? 

Well, you’ve said so. I haven’t. I don’t contest whatever people say about me.

Do you deny that you are the author of it? 

[Laughs.] Yes.

Is that a half-hearted denial? 

No. Toto animo. 

You are of course a member of the House of Lords. Do you think it proper in the late twentieth century that there should be an unelected body of legislators, however distinguished, in parliament? 

I see nothing wrong in an unelected body. The hereditary principle I admit is very difficult to defend. But it’s irreformable in a way, and any replacement would, of course, be liable to different objections. The House of Lords carries some fat, if one may use the phrase, but then so does the House of Commons. The Lords is much more of a real debating chamber than the Commons, because there’s not so much of a party side to it.

Do you think it will ever be possible to forge a real federal state in Europe out of the animosities of the last thousand years? 

Neither possible nor desirable. I am very much a pluralist and I consider that the pluralism of Europe is what has been the essential feature, if not cause, of its superiority. The various states have distinct identities, irreconcilable attitudes, which compete against each other and these have been the main factors in Europe’s effervescence and efflorescence, and I don’t wish to see it all homogenized. I support the idea of a free trade area in order that Europe may pull its weight in the world, but that does not mean that it should be ruled by an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels, establishing identical norms everywhere.

You must sometimes reflect ironically on the forged Hitler diaries when you recall your own work on Backhaus. In the appendix of your book you list ‘three learned forgers’. Is that something which made matters worse for you? 

No, I didn’t think about it. What was traumatic was my inability to prevent extracts being published, which was due to complicated muddles at The Times. I couldn’t stop the process which was forced by a series of episodes outside my control. When the business blew up I decided the only honourable thing to do was to state publicly that I had made a mistake, although I had tried to remedy the mistake and had been prevented from doing so. The mistake wasn’t the one I was accused of making, but still, I said I had made a mistake, and I thought naïvely that the other people whose responsibility had been far greater than mine would admit their part in it. But not at all; they all turned on me and kept completely silent about their own involvement, and regarded me as a sort of expendable scapegoat. All the media persecution was concentrated on me, and the rest sat smugly behind their barriers. That was a shock. It lowered my opinion of human behaviour. One likes to feel that people are honourable, and it’s painful to find that they aren’t.

Your enemies of course delighted in your mistake. You have always maintained that other people’s opinions of you were of little importance. Is that really the case, or have you put a brave front on it? 

No. Long before that episode I decided that other people’s opinions, within limits, are not of interest to me. I’m afraid it’s a rather arrogant thing to say, but I don’t really respect the opinions of people whom I don’t know. I think it’s as simple as that. If a trusted friend were to say harsh things about me, that would upset me, but if a journalist whom I’ve never met makes statements about me I’m quite indifferent to it. I have a kind of proud stoic attitude in this; I just say a man is himself, not what strangers say of him. To thine own self be true, that’s my philosophy.

What was your feeling when you learned that a TV series was to be made of the Hitler diaries saga? 

I paid no attention at all. I neither saw the film nor read the book. And I declined to write to the papers about it. I simply treated it as non-existent.

A.J. Ayer once said of you: ‘Some may think him lacking in charity’, and it is true that over the years you have joined battle with a number of enemies, often distinguished people, such as Lawrence Stone, Evelyn Waugh and Arthur Toynbee. The last of these you demolished in an article in Encounter. Some people, while admiring the scholarship of that article, detected a streak of cruelty. Is that something you are conscious of? 

No. I may say it was Evelyn Waugh who declared war on me, not I on him. Lawrence Stone also asked for it. He borrowed transcripts which I had made from documents in the Records Office, and that was the basis of this half-baked article which he wrote and which I criticized. He behaved very badly. I don’t think I’ve ever severely criticized any young scholar; it’s when people give themselves great airs and are taken seriously, that’s what arouses me.

I have always heard it said that in your eagerness to win battles you do not shrink from making personal attacks on colleagues. Do you accept that charge? 

I am not aware of having made personal attacks on colleague. If I have engaged in controversy, it has always been because I thought at the time that a serious issue was at stake. I wonder what colleague I am said to have attacked personally?

Richard Cobb has spoken of your love of combat, your readiness to jump into the fray over public issues. Is this something you have ever had cause to regret? 

I don’t think I love combat: it’s true I enjoyed the election for chancellorship of Oxford, but it was a genial, good-tempered affair, and there was a serious issue involved. Maurice Bowra, by bouncing a single gathering of heads of houses, had effectively disfranchised the university. This was widely felt (hence the strong support I received). Of course once the battle was on, Maurice was determined to win, and so was I. Have I ever regretted controversy? I regret them all in so far as they were extended (largely by the media) beyond their original terms. I regret having been involved with Evelyn Waugh, whose writing I admired. But he opened fire on me in 1947, both publicly (in the Tablet) and privately (in an abusive letter to me), and continued the one-sided vendetta for nine years before I finally took notice of him in the article which provoked his onslaught on my historical scholarship; to which I felt I had to reply.

The controversy whose extension I most regretted was with A.J.P. Taylor. I criticized his book The Origins of the Second World War because I thought his thesis wrong, indeed irresponsible. But the press took over; and from then on I was always represented as the constant adversary of A.J.P. Taylor. In fact I never criticized any other work of his. I minded this, as did he. In 1979 he wrote, in the London Review of Books: ‘I often read that Trevor-Roper and I are rivals or even antagonists. On my side, and I can confidently say on Hugh’s, this is totally untrue. We have always been good friends and no cross word has ever been passed between us.’ And he wrote to me in 1983: ‘I can assure you that my feelings towards you have always been those of friendly affection.’ It was the repeated (and successful) attempts of the press to persuade the world that Taylor and I were permanent adversaries that bred in me that distaste for the media which, I’m afraid is now ingrained in me. (Of course, the affair of the Hitler diaries strengthened it.)

Another controversy was my critique of Toynbee. I admit that I was nauseated by the pretensions and sanctimonious humbug of Toynbee, and (especially) his message which was defeatist and obscurantist; disgusted too by the idiot sycophancy towards him of the American academia and media. But effectively all I did was to quote his own words, which none of his sycophants had read – they had only read Somervell’s potted one-volume abridgement of his first six volumes, whereas the real revelation of his purpose, and his vanity, was in volumes seven to ten, published later. I do not regret this episode! Toynbee’s recent biographer, William McNeill, says that Toynbee’s reputation never recovered from my essay. That pleases me!

But neither here nor in any other controversy was I drawn in merely by ‘love of combat’; there was always a real issue on which, at the time, I felt strongly: Stone’s total misrepresentation of historical documents which he pretended he had discovered (when in fact he had borrowed my transcripts and had not tried to understand them); Bowra’s contempt for the Oxford electorate and its rights; Taylor’s special pleading for Hitler; Toynbee’s hatred of reason and the Enlightenment … As I don’t think I was wrong, intellectually, in any of these encounters (or in my critique of E.H. Carr), I don’t regret them – only the personalization of them, or some of them. Perhaps it is all the fault of my style: not enough emollient, shock-absorbing pulp, sawdust, stuffing, etc…

Those Who Stayed Behind

I have always regarded Richard Strauss’s work to be akin, in a more modest form, to that of Richard Wagner for both its power and lyrical connotations.

A great twentieth-century composer, whose rich repertoire has become a favourite with music buffs, he is a controversial figure with a marred reputation in certain quarters for having lived in the shadow of Nazism in the Second World War. One could argue that it takes more courage to stay than to leave. On the other hand it could lead to more complex questions, which would trigger off a heated debate such as the one currently taking place in New York with regard to the visit of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The same happened to Leni Riefenstahl, the prodigious filmmaker, whose scope and ability were blighted after the war for having made the highly acclaimed film Olympia and other documentaries in collaboration with the Nazi regime. The music of Richard Strauss and the films of Leni will nevertheless always remain puissant artistic endeavours for future generations.

I had known Leni for a few years, having trailed her in the early 1980s without much success, until I saw her by chance at the Frankfurt Book Fair years later – resulting in my publishing her autobiography The Sieve of Time in 1992. The book’s launch party, at the Museum of the Moving Image on London’s South Bank, was boycotted by the majority of the press, including a large section of the Jewish lobby, who accused her of being a staunch Nazi for staying and working in Germany, unlike Marlene Dietrich who made America her home throughout the war.

Another victim who stayed in Germany was the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had a similar accusation thrown at him and, as a consequence, suffered isolation after the war. He was only rehabilitated, thanks principally to the efforts of Yehudi Menuhin, who persuaded the music fraternity that Furtwängler was never a Nazi and worked in Germany during the war under duress. In 1995, Quartet published Furtwängler’s Notebooks: 1924 -1954 to well-deserved critical acclaim.

Most geniuses have what we call a dark side to their character, which should not necessarily prejudice our assessment of their work. We must ultimately judge them purely on the merits of their art and not on their personal behaviour or loose moralistic values.

Richard Wagner is a case in point. An example of a person I could not warm up to, but his music is another matter; an oeuvre with dimensions well beyond the realms of anything we could imagine. He stands supreme and it is hard to contemplate more absorbing music, the parallel of which one rarely encounters.

His mammoth sequence of operas, The Ring, is one of the great wonders of the world. Its scope and dramatic effect on the senses have not been surpassed.

As for Richard Strauss, I now look forward to celebrating his one hundred and fiftieth birthday by listening to his music – if only to remind oneself that prodigies of his calibre are hard to come by these days. We are much too involved in moneymaking and have forgotten how to live through the magical, dreamlike world of music often described by sages as the eye of the ear, without which we categorically cease to exist.

Thought for the Day

I know very little about politics in the Lebanon.

The news that a government has been formed after eleven months of bargaining among the different political factions is a step in the right direction. It will not cure the divisions that already exist but will somehow alleviate the painful state of having no government at all.

To be in a sort of limbo for so long does somehow add to the instability of the country. With the Syrian conflict spilling beyond its borders, and the burden of having to look after the continual flow of desperate refugees seeking shelter, the Lebanon finds itself the victim of circumstances not of its own making. The economy is bleeding profusely and internal security is not only lax but suffers acts of terrorism that have blighted any hopes of peaceful coexistence among the parties concerned.

Dialogue and compromise are now essential if the political divide is to be broached for the welfare of its population whatever their creed and political affiliations.

The country, the most cultivated in the Arab World with its rich heritage of outstanding men and women in every cultural endeavour, is crying for a respite to give it time to rediscover itself. Then perhaps the country can forge ahead once more and demonstrate to the world that the Lebanese capacity for survival against the elements is as pronounced and determined as ever before.

We must all wish them luck on a rocky journey which will ultimately bring them prosperity and peace.

The Play’s the Thing…

France faces a crisis of identity.

Since President Hollande, amid the Socialist resurgence that catapulted him to power, things have badly boomeranged. His manic determination to bring back the Socialist dogma of bleeding the rich by imposing a punitive seventy-five per cent tax has driven a lot of his countrymen abroad. In total dismay, they now fear that their beloved France is currently in the hands of an administration out of tune with economic realities, which can only lead to a worsening recession, and inflict a potentially mortal blow to the aspirations of most of its citizens.

There is gloom and discontent wherever one goes. Smiles are no longer to be seen; even the buoyancy of Paris is rarely visible. The president’s approval rating has sharply declined to below the twenty per cent mark – a record low. The figures reflect the French president’s global reputation as a joke, more interested in his complex love life, while unemployment soars to 11.1 per cent, its highest this century.

At twenty-one months into Hollande’s presidency, the TNS poll for Le Figaro magazine interviewed one thousand people and shows his approval rating running at nineteen per cent – down three percentage points from January. That was the month his affair with Julie Gayet was revealed causing a split from his first lady, Valérie Trierweiler. Nicholas Sarkozy, his predecessor, was at thirty-seven per cent at this stage, while Jacques Chirac was at thirty-five per cent.

In London, on Bastille Day, four lonely French people are spending the evening in a bistro in the heart of the capital. One left France to escape high taxes, a second quit in disgust at the country’s moral decline, a third moved after failing to obtain a loan to open a restaurant at home, and the fourth came for love. Deep down, all are yearning for Paris, the American dream of paradise, wondering what they are doing in a land of muffins and umbrellas. Their heartache and desolation is the central theme of L’Appel de Londres, a new play that opened in Paris recently. It is a vivid expression of dubiety and the lure of Britain.

About three hundred thousand French people live in the UK, sixty per cent of them in the capital. The number is likely to increase, judging by a recent survey that found seventy-five per cent of French students would consider moving abroad on the completion of their studies. France is facing record unemployment of 3.56 million and deepening disenchantment and gloom; it is in fact the most pessimistic nation in Europe, according to recent polls.

‘I am struck at how joyful people are in London,’ said Philippe Lellouche, the celebrity playwright who wrote and stars in L’Appel de Londres. ‘Everyone seems to be laughing. In Paris no one laughs any more. There is an absolute temptation for the French to move to Britain to look for work or to find a more friendly tax regime,’ he said. ‘London is populated with French people who either earn too much or not enough.’

Yet if his head tells him that it is logical for his countrymen to cross the Channel his heart says otherwise. ‘It dismays me to see them leave,’ says Lellouche, who plays alongside Vanessa Demouy, his wife. ‘I think it’s a form of abdication. They are a loss to France.’

Judging by the applause and cheers that greeted the opening night of the play, in the eight-hundred-seat Théâtre du Gymnase, his sentiment is widely shared.

As the characters in La Marseillaise Bistro pine for baguettes and debate whether to return home, the woman who runs it – named Marianne like the allegorical figure who symbolises Republican France – learns that Qatari investors have struck a deal to buy the Eiffel Tower. The sense of shock is such that French citizens, including the four expatriates, decide to subscribe to a fund to prevent the sale.

Lellouche would like the same patriotic spirit to lift the French for real. In practice, however, the signs do not bode well for the country as a whole, and the French will keep moving to London.

President Hollande is destined to obscurity unless he changes tack, acts responsibly, contains the activities of his pudenda and stops the load of tosh his administration keeps churning out. It is utterly degrading for the President of France, who can’t keep his pants up, to be ridiculed in such an undignified manner. Perhaps a rude awakening might do the trick…

The Wind of Change

The world is undergoing radical change as Nature unleashes its arsenal of deadly weaponry to remind us that its force is more powerful than anything Man can produce.

This winter, North America had to cope with the worst blizzards one can imagine, which still continue, where whole towns suffer a total freeze-up and their inhabitants are confined to their homes, seeking protection from the severity of plunging temperatures that constitute a real hazard to health.

In Britain, we had an unusually mild winter, which seemed to have brought with it torrential rain and gale-force winds that caused an untold devastation that we had rarely seen before. A large part of the south-west coast of England and Wales, primarily Somerset and Dorset, were battered by massive sea waves and heavy rain, causing flooding on a large scale. Rivers broke their banks and made thousands of people homeless and in urgent need of shelter – and the tragedy continues. Even at the outskirts of the capital, the River Thames, a stone’s throw from Heathrow Airport, has brought flood misery to hundreds of people who have until now felt more or less secure.

Scientists disagree as to the cause of it all. Those who claim climate change is the culprit are opposed by those who refute it with the same kind of arduous conviction. In other words, no one has been able to tell us conclusively why Nature’s behaviour is erratic to the point of incomprehensibility.

Putting the weather aside, the world is now in great turmoil. The Middle East is a volcano waiting to erupt; the divisions if not contained will eventually boil over to make the region a bed of fire, turning everything in its path to ashes. In the Far East, China and Japan are at loggerheads over some disputed islands that could lead to an all-out war where the US might get involved. Afghanistan remains a contentious field of conflict even when all foreign forces are no longer there. Its neighbour, Pakistan, has got serious problems of its own with lack of stability as the main perilous factor. North Korea, with its savage regime, will remain a threat to world peace unless some crucial reforms take place, which sadly are unlikely to happen. The UK has its problems with Europe and Scotland. Both concerns are not to be easily dismissed. We need Europe, and can ill-afford to be isolated. As for Scotland, if it were to vote for independence both countries will suffer and Great Britain will no longer be Great!

These are mammoth difficulties that could haunt us for generations to come. The present coalition government is tottering and clearly unable to address the enormity of the challenges, which are by no means easy to solve.

Let’s hope some fair wind, when it finally blows, will bring with it a whiff of common sense to every combatant in the world today, and to our politicians in particular, so as to lessen the multitude of exasperating quandaries that lurk on the horizon.

These lumbering thoughts might be as frustrating to the reader as they are to its narrator, but nevertheless they should form the basis of a useful debate where participants can let off steam for a more pragmatic consensus.