What is this Bernard?

Christopher Hitchens

  • Good and Faithful Servant: The Unauthorised Biography of Bernard Ingham by Robert Harris
    Faber, 202 pp, £14.99, December 1990, ISBN 0 571 16108 1

In the dismal mid-Seventies Patrick Cosgrave, later to be Margaret Thatcher’s adviser and biographer, took me to a Friday luncheon at the old Bertorelli’s in Charlotte Street. Here was a then-regular sodality, consisting at different times of Kingsley Amis, Bernard Levin, Robert Conquest, Anthony Powell, Russell Lewis and assorted others, and calling itself with heavy and definite self-mockery ‘Bertorelli’s Blackshirts’. The conversational scheme was simple (I think it had evolved from a once-famous letter to the Times defending Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam and signed by all or most of those present). One had to pretend that Britain was a country where it was dangerous to hold conservative opinions. So that a sample sally might begin, ‘I know it’s unfashionable to say this’ and go on to propose that, say, Hans Eysenck was on to something. Someone would lift a riskily brimming bumper and cry, ‘Down with Oxfam!’ Someone else might recommend a piece of samizdat from Encounter. And so the afternoon wore on agreeably enough, with daring satirical calls for South African port, Chilean wine and so forth.

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