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The queen, the workers, the Jews

Ferdinand Mount questions the basis on which the editor of the second volume of the Macmillan diaries, Peter Catterall, chose to reduce the published text to less than half the length of the original (LRB, 8 September). For anyone who has consulted the manuscript diaries in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, there is a further mystery. As Mount notes, the editor suggests in his introduction that deletions have been made in the interests of reducing the diaries to a reasonable length, not because of the sensitivity of particular passages. Yet anyone comparing the published version with the originals might reasonably suspect that references to Macmillan’s private conversations with and references to members of the royal family have been systematically removed in all but the most mundane cases.

To take some striking examples from the course of just a single year, the following episodes appear, uncensored, in the original manuscripts but not in the published volume:

15 June 1959: the queen tells Macmillan of her pregnancy ahead of a visit to Canada.

24 June 1959: Macmillan discusses with Martin Charteris the procedure for telling Kwame Nkrumah of queen’s pregnancy (she had been forced to cancel a planned visit to Ghana).

15 July 1959: a further discussion of the visit to Canada and when the pregnancy would be announced.

22 August 1959: a reference to queen’s gratitude to Macmillan for not requesting a dissolution of Parliament earlier (and thus disrupting her visit to Canada).

7 February 1960: a long reference to the queen’s distress over a controversy about the future of the royal name. She wished the Cabinet to agree that her descendants who were not eligible for a royal title would be known by the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.

3 May 1960: a reference to queen mother ‘lobbying’ for a peerage for Anthony Armstrong-Jones, but the queen being against it.

6 May 1960: a reference by Macmillan to the ‘slightly raffish element’ at Princess Margaret’s wedding.

Given some of the rather dull material that has inevitably found its way into the published diaries, it seems unlikely that these passages were deleted because they were not considered of sufficient interest. The passage from 7 February 1960 is particularly powerful. Macmillan recorded: ‘The whole thing has been strange and painful. It throws an extraordinary light on the Palace and the Mountbattens … I feel certain that the queen only wishes (properly enough) to do something to please her husband – with whom she is desperately in love. What upsets me … is the prince’s almost brutal attitude to the queen over this. I shall never forget what she said to me that Sunday night in Sandringham.’ Although this does not appear in the published diaries it is quoted in full in Charles Williams’s biography of Macmillan, which came out in 2009.

The manuscript copies of the diaries in the Bodleian have already been quite heavily censored by the Cabinet Office, which redacted most references to Macmillan’s audiences with the queen. It is all the more extraordinary, then, that a further level of censorship has apparently been imposed on the published diaries, particularly since some of the passages considered unsuitable for inclusion have already appeared in print. Catterall’s failure to explain in his introduction why this has been done is self-defeating. It undermines confidence in his editorship of the diaries, which in most other respects has been exemplary. One might suspect that he has come under pressure from other quarters. The Palace has been extremely active in recent years in lobbying for ever greater restrictions on the public’s access to records relating to the royal family, and successive governments have largely surrendered to this pressure. As a result it is becoming increasingly difficult to conduct serious historical research into the role of the British monarchy, even in relation to events that took place half a century ago.

Philip Murphy
Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

Ferdinand Mount notes Macmillan’s failure to record that, in his speech at Bedford in July 1957, ‘he uttered the immortal phrase about most of us never having had it so good.’ But the phrase was not in the text of Macmillan’s speech, which may be why it failed to lodge in his mind. I was present at the meeting (I was then a sixth-former at Bedford School) and my recollection is that, after Macmillan had been droning on for a considerable time, someone shouted out: ‘What about the workers?’ The catchphrase was a popular one, and the interruption was I think purely facetious, but Macmillan appeared to suppose that a genuine objection was being raised. He stopped, turned to the heckler, and replied: ‘You’ve never had it so good.’ Then he went back to his text. The whole episode was mildly comical and absurd, so another possibility is that Macmillan the diarist may have felt it best forgotten.

Quentin Skinner
Queen Mary, University of London

Ferdinand Mount reports that Macmillan’s diaries are ‘tinged with anti-semitism’. It ought, however, to be remembered that, in 1961, Macmillan was instrumental as prime minister in persuading Eton to remove a 1945 statute requiring the fathers of candidates for scholarships to have been British at birth, since Jews were, in the words of the provost, Claude Elliott, ‘too clever’ or ‘clever in the wrong way’. A.J. Ayer protested, but the statute remained. By chance, however, Ayer found himself alone in a train compartment with Edward Boyle, a Treasury minister in Macmillan’s government. Boyle raised the issue with Macmillan, himself a former Eton scholar. The prime minister wrote to Elliott ‘in a private capacity’, protesting at the anti-semitic implications of the statute. Within a month it had been repealed.

Vernon Bogdanor
Institute of Contemporary History, King’s College London


There after all

For many years I attended the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, in the same building where Tracey Emin had the operation she describes in her film How It Feels. It was a brand-new extension when my consultant first moved there, and the small building was a bubble of 1960s utopian style, strikingly pop in its bright lime-green plastic and curved perspex. One of the reasons I mentioned its disappearance in my review of Emin was that, while the artist’s experiences speak very vividly to the present time, and the arguments over abortion are politically a live and worrying issue again, the social setting she evokes has gone – and the fortunes of buildings are a good barometer. Chris Cossey is right to chide me for not specifying that it was a modern extension that was pulled down, but his letter focuses on the architectural survival of the original hospital, and does not make clear that its name and its function have continued, since 2008, in a maternity and neo-natal wing of the colossal new University College Hospital (Letters, 8 September). Anderson’s name survives, and social history remembers her role, but her focus on women’s health in general in a dedicated women’s hospital has changed, and that is a sign of the times, requiring further thought.

Marina Warner
London NW5


Dismantling the Universities

Readers may not appreciate the extent to which the discourse of the current higher education White Paper, so well analysed by Stefan Collini, has been anticipated and enthusiastically adopted in some UK universities (LRB, 25 August). The criteria for decisions of all kinds at the university where I teach English literature (I am writing under a pseudonym) are governed by the financial bottom line. But the university also recognises that the bottom line isn’t the only thing it has to take care of. Just as important is the effort expended on trying to determine and manage how the university is seen, not only by potential student-consumers but also, and probably more important, by its current and potential overseas business partners.

Thus the current position of our university on two-year degrees is negative, but not because two-year degrees aren’t a good idea, which they may or may not be. What is important is how they play, and currently they are not perceived to play well with foreign partners. This attempt to control and manage perceptions, coupled with the institution’s corporate logic, has generated a particular rhetoric. For example, the phrase ‘our university’ is used in all official discourse; the impersonal style ‘the university’ must be thought to intimate a distance that smacks of disloyalty. Some parts of some universities may be awkward or challenging to government in the ways that Collini suggests, but in the university where I work, and various others, official resentment of what is perceived to be expensive, fussily specialised academic knowledge needs no governmental encouragement. It has led to the near exclusion of academics from areas such as the admissions process – which has now been largely outsourced to a specialist edu-business.

Like many university departments, ours could not run without part-time lecturers, but the increasingly familiar pattern of a skeleton permanent teaching staff supported by part-timers has become a model for staffing in many institutions, and not just because it is cheaper. The small remaining contingent of permanent staff is increasingly going to be employed to develop, write and monitor courses that they will not teach and which exist primarily as units for sale or rent to a variety of markets, national and global. Little, if any, thought has been given to the impact of this on teaching and learning. The courses and teaching materials produced in these alienated contexts may look reassuring, but the very excess of documentation – lecture summaries, seminar questions, Q&As, essay titles – aiming to deal with every eventuality, every context is deadening. This wouldn’t be such a problem if there were space and time for editing, adapting, interpreting, and for staff and students to challenge one another. But for all the obvious reasons, space and time are precisely what isn’t available.

Further, the global market, rightly or wrongly, is seen as a very conservative place: the role of self-censorship, the weeding out of anything that might prove controversial, is a necessary consequence of the edu-business model. The result is courses that become ever more anodyne as they compete to imagine the inoffensive. In various departments in my university, course content is already indirectly determined by partner institutions, national and international: it can’t be taught here unless it is taught there. If we change it here, we must change it there – and we can’t change it there.

Lorna Mills
London E2

‘The inescapable conclusion,’ Stefan Collini asserts, ‘is that this huge gamble with one of the world’s most successful systems of higher education is being taken in order to bring universities to heel.’ He appears not to have noticed that the Conservatives have staked everything on a political narrative that Labour screwed up the economy and by the time of the next election the Tories will have fixed it. The chosen crux of this is deficit reduction, which has driven out the need even for an economic policy. Deficit reduction is all there is. And in this light the advantage of the reforms is clear. This is why the Higher Education Policy Institute has described the motivation for the reforms as an ‘accounting trick’. It is a far more compelling explanation for the reforms than the need to bring the universities to heel, which, so far as I can tell, nobody in Westminster or Whitehall gives a toss about.

William Cullerne Bown
London EC2


Hands off the World Service!

Jo Glanville’s article on the fate of the BBC World Service shows just how bad a deal the World Service received in the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (LRB, 25 August). It becomes a charge on the BBC licence fee from 2014 with no assurances that the nature of its broadcasting aims are understood by the BBC or that its funding will be protected from the normal and inevitable domestic pressures on the licence fee.

Yet, with such financial uncertainty beckoning from 2014, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – historically the World Service’s source of funding through grant-in-aid – said farewell to the World Service with a negative dowry, no less than a 25 per cent, £46 million cut which the BBC, despite emollient and vague words, will not make good now or in the future. Huge cuts immediately, no security in the future: a double financial whammy.

Worse still, while appearing to welcome an emasculated World Service into the financial ranks of the BBC, senior BBC management seemed to make little effort to oppose the World Service cuts or to resist the FCO’s presumptuous insistence on keeping the ‘right’ to ‘prescribe’ the international languages in which the World Service broadcasts. Since the FCO no longer funds the World Service how can it claim to determine the precise notes in which the piper plays his tunes?

Most worrying of all is that, to judge from Glanville’s conversations with BBC personnel, there is a very poor – indeed wholly inaccurate – understanding of the way in which the distinct newsrooms of the World Service and the domestic BBC work. They have been distinct because they operate to distinct news agendas, in one case overwhelmingly international, in the other necessarily domestic. But they haven’t needed the Birt-ite ‘integration’ to encourage them to share and co-operate. The two newsrooms have always shared all their material because they are editorially and philosophically part of one BBC. When the World Service has funded – from its own budget – correspondents or stringers in more remote corners of the world because its global news agenda demanded such coverage, its reports have automatically been made available to the domestic BBC. The strength of having two news organisations which collaborate and do not duplicate each other far outweighs any (notional) bureaucratic gains from their merger.

John Tusa
London N1

Jo Glanville points out that for all the BBC’s availability online, 88 per cent of listeners still rely on radio. There is no excuse then for the problem of feeble transmitters. Here in the Northern Sporades I scan the shortwave spectrum from the 16m band to the 49m band every morning, and can get – loud and clear, but with varying bias – English-language news from France, Germany, America, Russia, Romania, China, Australia and Vatican City. The BBC? Faint and fading, barely discernible through the background noise.

Simon Darragh
Alonnisos, Greece


‘The Traitor’

Maurizio Serra writes that the text of ‘The Traitor’, part of Malaparte’s Journal d’un étranger à Paris, was originally written in Italian rather than French (Letters, 8 September). In doing my translation of ‘The Traitor’, I was working from the Denoël edition of the Journal published in Paris in 1967. The book’s introduction stresses the fact that Malaparte wrote his journal sometimes in French, sometimes in Italian, depending on circumstances and whim: ‘The reader will notice that Malaparte’s style hardly shifts from one language to the other, and that he uses both according to the inspiration of the moment.’ The sections originally written in Italian, and translated into French by Gabrielle Cabrini, are presented in italics – about a third of the book. The rest is printed in Roman type, and – according to Denoël – this is the material originally written by Malaparte in French. ‘The Traitor’ is translated from one of these sections. Writing a book in two languages is indeed curious – but much that concerns Malaparte is curious.

Walter Murch
Bolinas, California


Waterboarding: A Short History

Thomas Laqueur notes that ‘waterboarding’ was invented during ‘the American occupation of the Philippines after the “war of liberation” from Spain in 1898’ (LRB, 25 August). In the West, the torture is at least as old as medieval times and is frequently associated with the Spanish Inquisition. Pieter Bruegel’s depiction of it in his Justice engraving is perhaps the most vivid representation of it, but there are many others, earlier and later.

Teoman Sipahigil
Moscow, Idaho


Nightingale Exonerated

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is wrong to suggest that Florence Nightingale rejected Mary Seacole for the nursing expedition to Scutari and the Crimea (LRB, 25 August). By the time Seacole applied to be a member of the second group of nurses, Nightingale was already in Turkey and played no part in the selection process. Seacole’s colour may have had something to do with her rejection by other parties: Nightingale’s own feelings about her were ambivalent. On the one hand, she praised Seacole’s care of officers; on the other, she was wary of her association with drinking and ‘immorality’. It was vital for the success of the enterprise that the official nursing expedition should not have its reputation tarnished.

Mark Bostridge
London NW3


Wales Invaded

Perry Anderson writes that Britain ‘went unscathed through the Napoleonic Wars, without so much as a single French footprint on British soil’ (LRB, 28 July). This ignores the landing of a French Republican force three miles west of Fishguard in February 1797. It was two days before the 1400 invaders surrendered to British forces under the command of Lord Cawdor.

Ian Patterson
Queens’ College, Cambridge