Among all the many things that happened in 1980 the saddest by far for me was the death of George Hutchinson, who departed far too young at the age of fifty-nine. He was my earliest friend in Britain; I had met him soon after landing in the country in 1949. There were many who mourned him, but for me in particular it was as the last of his kind: a gentlemanly, distinguished journalist with integrity. He had indeed belonged to that rare breed of men whose near-extinction has left the world of journalism a poorer place. The elegance of his writing, coupled with his exquisitely refined manners, made him the darling of that section of society which had an appreciation for such qualities. His readership stretched across the nation at every social level. He was the voice of moderation and invariably he had a message that was tinged with hope and optimism. For the more sophisticated, his political acumen was sharp and incisive, and he was rarely wrong in any assessment he made of an issue of national importance.
There was much I had George to thank for. In 1950, when monetary support from my family in Haifa was blocked by new regulations, the Home Office had been about to repatriate me to Israel, on the grounds that as the holder of a student visa I could no longer sustain myself financially. George’s intervention, principally with the Home Office, and his rallying of MPs on my behalf secured my stay in the United Kingdom. Though we each pursued our separate paths, our friendship remained strong over subsequent years. The only blip occurred with Quartet’s publication of the Mrs Thatcher’s Handbag kit. On this one occasion George’s sense of humour deserted him, and the resulting froideur took some time to thaw.
Eventually all was forgiven and Quartet published his biography of Harold Macmillan, The Last Edwardian at No. 10. It was the final work he was able to complete. At the book’s launch party, a few weeks before his death, the guests included Harold Macmillan with his son Maurice. Harold stood there, leaning on his stick, and demanded, ‘Lead me to the author! Lead me to the author!’ There were an extraordinary number of writers and politicians among the host of friends and admirers. They thronged about him where he had positioned himself in a corner, awkwardly upright, for the illness had already taken its toll on his handsome frame. Nevertheless his face carried an expression of pleasure and satisfaction. His peers were there to pay him tribute for the last time.
The writer of his obituary in the Sunday Telegraph spoke of how kindly, courteous and good-natured George had been. Despite having spent his life in the often acerbic worlds of politics and journalism, he seemed to have acquired only friends and not enemies, and all the pieces that were written about him after his death mentioned the affection and esteem in which this warm and generous man had always been held.