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Michael Davie

Michael Davie edited The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh and was formerly an associate editor of the Observer. He is now editor of the Melbourne newspaper, The Age.

‘No, no,’ replied the fat man

Michael Davie, 3 December 1992

The first thing that must strike anyone opening this well-produced book – and they may do so with apprehension, since company histories are notoriously bland – is the wonderful harvest of illustrations, ranging from No 1, a photograph of the founder and his son, the strangely whiskered Julius Reuter and Herbert, circa 1870, to No 63, a Reuters news picture of the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989. No 17 shows an outpost of the Reuters empire in 1900: Kalgoorlie, Australia, with men in suits and one in a straw hat lounging outside the Miners Institute, which also serves as the office, as a notice says, of the Reuters Telegram Company Limited. No 27 shows the substantial Delhi office circa 1920 (India was a prime source of Reuters’ profits), with a camel and driver passing by. Thus the imperial nature of Reuters is at once established in the mind of the reader.

Dreamtime with Whitlam

Michael Davie, 4 September 1986

Towards the end of last year, shortly after Mr Gough Whitlam, the former Australian prime minister, had finished writing these memoirs, I had the pleasure of dining with him at the best hotel in Sofia. The occasion was less exotic than it sounds. Unesco was holding an acrimonious meeting in Bulgaria, and Mr Whitlam was present as Australia’s ambassador to Unesco. We met in the hotel foyer, among the polyglot delegates. Whitlam is a very tall man, with grey hair brushed back, well-dressed and genial. When he comes into a room, everyone knows he is there. I had heard rumours that with his beautiful official flat in Paris and his interest in culture Whitlam had become seriously Europeanised. These misgivings proved unfounded. He was talking to a group of his aides. ‘Have you met this bloke?’ he asked them. ‘He’s a Pom.’

Mistrial

Michael Davie, 6 June 1985

The greatest story since the Resurrection was how Mencken described the 1935 trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. Among the three hundred-odd reporters present, besides Mencken, were Damon Runyon, Ford Madox Ford, Edna Ferber, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Walter Winchell and Joseph Alsop, who was required to write no less than ten thousand words a day for the Herald Tribune. Celebrities who dropped by included Ginger Rogers, Moss Hart, Lynn Fontanne, Jack Dempsey, Robert ‘Believe-it-or-not’ Ripley, Elsa Maxwell and Jack Benny. They were in court less because of Hauptmann than because of Lindbergh, the biggest celebrity of them all. It is a sign of the passing of time that on the dustjacket of this book the name of Ludovic Kennedy is five times bigger than Lindbergh’s. Half a century ago, nobody’s name was bigger than Lindy’s.

Allegedly

Michael Davie, 1 November 1984

Years ago, the Sunday newspaper I had joined as a junior reporter sent me one Saturday afternoon to see Sir Thomas Beecham, then at the height of his fame as a conductor. The paper had written his profile, and I was told to take a proof and show it to him, to ensure that it was factually correct. Clutching the galleys, I rang the bell at his house in St John’s Wood. Sir Thomas himself opened the door. He did not seem friendly. However, he allowed me into his drawing-room, though without offering me a chair, and himself sat down and began to read. Never before or since have I seen anyone so slowly and yet so inexorably come to the boil. His face flushed, his back straightened, and his eyes widened. Then he rose to his feet, and finally he exploded. ‘If this article is published, young man I shall sue your newspaper for one hundred thousand pounds.’

Bob Hawke’s Australia

Michael Davie, 6 October 1983

When Bob Hawke romped home in the Australian federal election last March, becoming the first Labor Prime Minister since 1975, a colleague remarked drily that the election could have been won by a drover’s dog. Another colleague, Bill Hayden, said it could have been won by a cripple. Hayden, now Australia’s Foreign Minister, had reasons to be less than wholly delighted by Hawke’s triumph. Until the very day that the election was called, Hayden was the Labor leader. He was dumped after years of loyal service on the grounds that he was uninspiring whereas Hawke, although he had been an MP for only three years, was a born vote-getter. Hawke’s rise has been phenomenal. Before he became an MP, with his hooded eyes firmly fixed on the Prime Minister’s job, he had been president for a decade of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It was as if Len Murray had decided to have a go at politics and had suddenly been propelled into Downing Street.

Pilgrim’s Progress

Michael Davie, 4 December 1980

The external paraphernalia of Evelyn Waugh included check suits, an ear-trumpet, a watch-chain, cigars, unfashionable Victorian paintings, a large family and a West Country manor house. To those interested by what lay behind these characteristically English defences, this selection of his letters may come as a disappointment. When Waugh died in 1966, the outside world possessed little reliable information about the nature of the beast inside the baroque carapace. Only occasionally would the monster come out of his lair: sometimes in print to deride Picasso or Auden, sometimes in person to insult his friends. For all the outside world could tell, though the evidence of his books seemed to argue against the conclusion, he truly was a snob, a religious bigot, an anti-semite, an anti-foreigner, a near-fascist.

Letter

Not on the payroll

22 October 1992

Edward Pearce’s generous review of our Beaverbrook biography (LRB, 22 October) says wrongly that one of us (Davie) was ‘snatched up’ by Beaverbrook for the Evening Standard. This trivial-sounding slip is of some importance to us, because our main qualification for tackling Beaverbrook was that, unlike virtually everyone else who had written about him at any length, neither of us had...

Hooting

Edward Pearce, 22 October 1992

Like many another high-toned writer, I started journalistic life on the Express, initially the Sunday in John Junor’s long days, then the Daily under Roy Wright. Beaverbrook had been dead...

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God’s Iceberg

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 4 December 1986

Some passengers were playing cards in the second-class smoking-room when the Titanic hit the iceberg. It was Sunday night, quite late, and most people had gone to bed. One card-player had seen...

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