Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

The looming centenary of the outbreak of the first world war offers an opportunity to break away from the Blackadder/Oh! What a Lovely War vision, which dominates popular perceptions. Nobody sane suggests a celebration. But, in place of the government's professed 'non-judgmental' approach to commemoration, ministers could assert that although the war was assuredly ghastly, it was not futile.

Whatever the shortcomings of the Treaty of Versailles, a peace imposed by a victorious Germany would have been much worse. David Cameron often mentions with pride Britain's role in resisting Hitler. In 2014, it would be good to hear him acknowledge that Britain, and those who died in her name, were also right to resist the Kaiser's generals.

David Heathcoat-Amory is my only friend now deafer than me. He says he does fine at parties by deploying two questions to which he does not need to hear answers: 'How's the old complaint?';

and 'How's the book?', the latter because everyone he knows is writing something.

The same goes for my acquaintances.

BBC veteran Peter Snow published a stirring tale last week about the 1814 American campaign, during which the British army burned the White House.

Although 75, Peter's manic enthusiasm is undiminished. I recently had dinner at his house, where we discussed 1914 with his enchanting sister-in-law Margaret Macmillan, who next month publishes her own epic study of the approach to war. She and Ann Snow left Peter and me on our own for just one course: a visit to the vast model railway in his attic. I was mad with envy.

Having seen the long list for the Samuel Johnson Prize, Charles Moore should be a shoo-in for his biography of Margaret Thatcher. If he misses out, the only conceivable reason will be ideological bias among the judges against author or subject.

I am trying to persuade Tom Bower to write an autobiography, and have suggested a title: Dancing With Scoundrels. He and I first worked together 40 years ago on a BBC film about Robert Maxwell. Think of others in Tom's subsequent cast: Tiny Rowland, Richard Branson, Geoffrey Robinson, Mohammed Fayed, assorted Nazi war criminals, Richard Desmond, Bernie Ecclestone, Simon Cowell. To mix metaphors, he is the only man ever to have forged a brilliant career by serving as a tour guide to the Chamber of Horrors.

The prodigious Michael Howard - the 'good' MH, as we call the former regius professor, to distinguish him from another one - came to lunch on Sunday. …

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