It’s amazing to think my collection of interviews with men is almost thirty year’s old. First published in 1990, it was the follow-up to my best-selling collection of interviews with the fairer sex, Women, published in 1987.
I had become restless when all the brouhaha and promotion had died down after Women’s publication and decided a collection of interviews with men would be a suitable challenge. I was very apprehensive, perhaps due largely to my upbringing: no public school grounding, very little exposure to masculine conviviality – factors which have always left me feeling curiously detached in male society, despite being gregarious at heart. Nevertheless, I began in earnest. Letters were written and, in most cases, replies were received. Initially I was disappointed because it seemed that people were being over-cautious. I could elaborate on the project, define the shape the book was to take, but it was difficult to speculate on those likely to take part.
My enthusiasm grew when my first interview was arranged. It was with Richard Ingrams and I remain indebted to him for encouraging others to take part in the book. Auberon Waugh came next, and thereafter one agreement to be interviewed followed another. My objective was to lay before the reader the experience and thoughts of various men from whom we can perhaps learn something about ourselves and the times in which we then lived. The people who were subjects of Singular Encounters articulated their own views in their own distinct manner and style. I have always felt it is always much more compelling to hear a story at first hand.
Reading them, three decades later, their vim and verve still resonate and what a list of subjects get covered – a unique snapshot on a time when British society was changing in nearly every aspect of its character and ambitions. And what a list of men! Sir Harold Acton, Lord Alexander, Michael Aspel, Mark Birley, William F. Buckley Jr, Sir Raymond Carr, Maurice Cowling, Quentine Crewe, Nigel Dempster, André Deutsch, Dominick Dunne, J K Galbraith, Monsignor Gilbey, Lord Goodman, Derek Hill, Stanley Hoffman, Richard Ingrams, Lord Lambton, Yehudi Menuhin, William Rees-Mogg, Willie Rushton, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Colonel Townend, John Updike, Sir Fred Warner, Auberon Waugh, Edmund White, Sir Gordon White, A N Wilson. An astonishing mix of men, and just in case some of them are now forgotten, I had the foresight to include brief biographies before the start of each interview.
The reviews were enthusiastic and almost entirely appreciative of my endeavour. Lynn Barber thought me ‘a good interviewer… curious about other people; he is modest enough to let them say their piece without feeling the need to put his oar in… And he gathers some plums…’; Victoria Mather declared ‘the reader of Singular Encounters is a privileged eavesdropper…’; Auberon Waugh, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, maintained: ‘Part of Attallah’s skill as an interviewer is that nothing shocks him…’; Fiona MacCarthy told her Observer readers that: ‘Men are curiously eager to talk about their childhoods… Attallah is very conscious of that Englishman’s fear of self-knowledge and the Englishman’s hatred… of laying himself open to embarrassment’; and Polly Samson, in the Daily Mail, considered ‘the overall effect is rather like being at a gentleman’s club as the port is passed. Witty, indiscreet but sometimes incoherent.’
It’s a wonderful book to dip in and out of, so it was with some excitement that I discovered our warehouse still has some copies left. The paperback edition is still with its original price – £8.95 – that’s 629 pages! A perfect summer read or Christmas present and remarkable value for money. I just thought I’d tell you…