The Common Touch
- Hanson: A Biography by Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe
Fourth Estate, 336 pp, £20.00, September 1994, ISBN 1 85702 189 4
This is a story of a hero. The Times described him as the ‘first and the finest’ of all the heroes of the Golden Age of Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher had a penchant for ‘swashbuckling’ entrepreneurs, especially ones with Northern accents. When she first met James Hanson, his gentle Yorkshire lilt fascinated her almost as much as his millions. She assumed, as Harold Wilson had several years previously, that Hanson was typical of the self-made man, the hard-working puritan who started at the bottom and worked twenty hours a day until he achieved fame and fortune. Like Wilson, Hanson came from Milnsbridge, Huddersfield, but his origins were not quite as humble as his accent might suggest. ‘The same entrepreneurial spirit that led Mary Hanson to expand her transport business in 1846 – when she began to haul wool and other goods across the Pennines to Manchester on packhorses – pulsed through the veins of her great-grandsons,’ Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe write without a trace of irony.
Vol. 16 No. 22 · 24 November 1994
I doubt that everything in this world is quite as ugly and dark as Paul Foot suggests (LRB, 10 November). Look at the LRB’s nice covers for a start; that one with the flying carpet was a topper. Most of them, in fact, are busy doing their bit for Beauty. Right enough, though, I’ve heard that the guy with the paintbrush is never to be seen in the boardrooms of the more corrupt multinationals. Like I say, this is what I’ve heard.
Vol. 16 No. 24 · 22 December 1994
Paul Foot appears to have used the occasion of Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe’s Hanson: A Biography primarily as a pretext for expounding his own ideological views, at times in extremely emotive prose, rather than as a review of the book (LRB, 10 November). He refers to the coal strike at certain of Peabody’s operations, talking of Peabody’s conduct in particularly disparaging terms. Anyone who read the US newspaper reports at the time, or even reads the book itself on this topic, would realise that his comments would have been more accurate, and his review a more honest reflection of the book’s contents, if they had been rather directed to the union’s tactics in this dispute. This example is simply one of a number that proliferate throughout this article. As an organisation funded through the public purse, we would have expected you and your editorial team to exercise a certain degree of control over the content of the reviews, rather than allowing them to be used as a mouthpiece for an individual’s misplaced grievances.
Legal Director, Hanson
Vol. 17 No. 2 · 26 January 1995
I thought the basic criterion for printing letters in the LRB was some sort of style, wit or literary relevance. That from Lord Hanson’s Legal Director (Letters, 22 December 1994) had none of these; worse still, the silken politico-litigious menace within the phrase, ‘organisation funded through the public purse’, seemed to imply that taxpayers’ money should never be spent on any organisation which published matter critical of any powerful private interests and that, if it happened again, Hanson plc might one day use its undoubted influence with the current government to teach you a lesson. But then again, perhaps its publication was simply an intelligent way of reminding the Literature Panel of the Arts Council how much you deserve your modest grant. In any event Mr Dransfield doth protest much too much and wholly counterproductively.
Settle, North Yorkshire