What is this Bernard?
- 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.
Vol. 13 No. 3 · 7 February 1991
In his review of the recent biography of Bernard Ingham (LRB, 10 January) Christopher Hitchens refers to the Leeds Weekly Citizen as a ‘Labour machine mouthpiece’. As a former editor of that paper (1945-49), I must say a word in defence of my contributors, who struggled with some success to make it into something quite different. These naturally included local MPs and city councillors, but also Fabians, academics from various faculties, critics, and personal friends of mine. The paper dutifully outlined official party policy, but this was continually open to criticism from readers and contributors. Because of this openness we were bombarded with complaints from Transport House, especially from Len Williams, my predecessor as editor. His normal method of controversy was the smear. He believed that all criticism was disloyal, whereas I believed that rational criticism was a positive duty. Eventually I was told by the Board that I must never publish articles or letters critical of party policy. I therefore resigned and my successor at once made the paper what it had been in the past, and presumably what it was some years later in the days of Ingham’s contributions. By that time I had moved to Liverpool.
I should add that we would never print the vulgar abuse deplored by your reviewer, and that we never attacked ‘metropolitan eggheads’. On the contrary, we published many articles on modern writers from James to Auden, from Aragon to Sartre, without causing any decline in the paper’s circulation. This was because we warned academics not to use critical jargon.