Magazine article The Spectator

Spilling the Beans on Bankers, Blondes, Booze and Boxers

Magazine article The Spectator

Spilling the Beans on Bankers, Blondes, Booze and Boxers

Article excerpt

A funny thing happened to me on the way to The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year lunch. The early crowd in the foyer of Claridge's ballroom was largely made up of City guests invited by our excellent sponsor, Threadneedle Investments, while less well-mannered parliamentary and media guests arrived late or not at all. I recognised several senior figures from my own banking days, among them a former colleague. Since this column is, this once, about journalistic good manners rather than corporate name-dropping, I will not hint at his identity. We exchanged pleasantries until a third party in the conversation moved away; then he brought his face closer to mine, with a rather chilly smile, and said quietly: 'I thought what you wrote about Jack was unforgivable.' That's a strong word to have hissed at you at a champagne reception. Jack's real name can be uncovered easily enough in Falling Eagle -- my book about what seemed to be the declining fortunes of Barclays Bank -- but it feels appropriate to say no more about Jack here than that he was one of our former bosses. He died almost a decade ago, and I wrote an obituary of him at the time which alluded tactfully to appetites for booze and nightlife, and a tendency to become incoherent under the influence of both, facts that were common knowledge among the tribe of international banking sophisticates to which he belonged. The obituary was well received, but four years later in Falling Eagle I offered a more richly anecdotal and, I fear, unrestrainedly comic account of Jack's weaknesses. I also made the point that his business judgment was well respected and that 'he was a genuine human being: you could not help but like him'. Nevertheless, I was aware that some people thought I was out of order, and last week's encounter was an unexpected opportunity to analyse why.

It was not that anyone really challenged the substance of my description of Jack.

What my Claridge's accuser disapproved of, he said, was the element of 'kiss and tell' -- meaning, I guess, that I had revealed, for personal gain and regardless of the harm to Jack's reputation, tittle-tattle about incidents which Jack could not have imagined would ever be recorded in print. In doing so, I had committed an act of cynical bad taste and tribal disloyalty.

This was, you may be thinking, a wickedly appropriate topic for an impromptu argument at a Spectator party, but it took me aback. I stumbled to make the point that other former colleagues had written from around the world to tell me that I had let Jack off lightly, and that I myself felt I had been unfair to him only in the sense that the law of libel -- or rather the publisher's fear of it -- had prevented me from including similarly frank portraits of other characters in the story who are still alive. Then we were interrupted by other guests and ushered to lunch at different tables; so unforgiven is how I must remain.

It is a status which many journalists would regard as an accolade -- worthy of its own awards ceremony, even. But it has been troubling me all week, while the airwaves have been filled with debate about the alleged lapses of etiquette and loyalty committed by Sir Christopher Meyer in being so frank about his former political masters in his book DC Confidential. …

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