Memoriousness

E.S. Turner

  • Memories of Times Past by Louis Heren
    Hamish Hamilton, 313 pp, £15.95, July 1988, ISBN 0 241 12427 1
  • Chances: An Autobiography by Mervyn Jones
    Verso, 311 pp, £14.95, September 1987, ISBN 0 86091 167 5

Louis Heren, the veteran foreign correspondent, had hoped to become editor of the Times in succession to William ReesMogg, when Rupert Murdoch bought the newspaper. Heren was told that, at 61, he was too old. Under Harold Evans he failed to flourish (‘Evans trashes me, to use the US Army expression, and most of my former colleagues in his book Good Times, Bad Times’), so he took his redundancy money and settled for writing books. His autobiographical Growing up in London was followed by Growing up on the ‘Times’ which concentrated on his overseas assignments. Both were vivid and zestful memoirs.

Memories of Times Past is an odd gatherall of a book, blending as it does personal reminiscence with dips into newspaper history, analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of various Times editors and reflections on the role of newspapers. There are recapitulations from his last book, whole passages being lifted or lightly paraphrased. At times it is as if the writer is sitting, glass in hand, in a sunset home for retired correspondents, holding forth once more with his favourite tales: my row with Adenauer, my bigger row with General Templer, my ‘scoop’ of the Dead Sea Scrolls, my meeting with Glubb Pasha (again likened to a chubby curate), my air crash in Israel, my sight of the frozen bodies of American Marines stacked like cordwood in Korea, awaiting shipment home.

Heren, born in the East End of London, was taken on as a messenger boy in Printing House Square when Geoffrey Dawson was at the helm. If, fifty years on, he had succeeded to the editorship, he would have known better than to cast himself as an unofficial member of the Cabinet, which was where Dawson, the villain of this book, went wrong. Dawson intrigued to unseat Edward VIII (a good thing, as it happened, but none of his business) and was the architect of his newspaper’s appeasement-of-Hitler policy, his belief being that the Empire, in which he took an obsessive interest, was not at that stage fully behind Britain. Says Heren: ‘He was not appointed editor for the greater glory of the British Empire but to report the news.’ Heren explains that his crime was to ignore the reports of his foreign correspondents, even to the point of suppressing an early report on the concentration camp at Dachau. Dawson has taken much stick for all this, both in official and unofficial histories of the Times, and there is not much that Heren can add, other than the indignation of a newsman who, while proud to work for the Times, refused to look on it as a national institution or an arm of government. Heren commends Sir William Haley’s clear and sensible definition of what the Times should stand for: ‘It is an entirely unofficial non-party newspaper appealing to men and women of reason and good will of all kinds of opinion. It seeks to judge each issue that arises only by reference to the broad national good. It will not subordinate this judgment to the interests of one class or another.’ Fair enough, except that Dawson would have argued that he was indeed trying to serve the broad national good.

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