Gruff Embraces

Philip Purser

  • The Expense of Glory: A Life of John Reith by Ian McIntyre
    HarperCollins, 447 pp, £20.00, September 1993, ISBN 0 00 215963 5

Reading Ian McIntyre’s new Life of Reith I found myself longing for just one deed, one word, one sentiment from the great man which I could admire. In public office, notably as the architect and first Director-General of the BBC, he may have achieved a number of admirable ends, if fewer than pious legend attributes to him. But the arrogance, bitterness and venom towards others he reveals in his private papers would blister paint. Not for the first time I was forced to wonder if the biographer’s traditional reliance on written, rather than oral or anecdotal evidence, always represents the fairest approach to a subject, especially when the subject is a diarist and letter-writer who scribbles away furiously, insensitively, abusively, and then takes good care to ensure every word – well, nearly every word – is preserved.

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