Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Article excerpt

I was wondering what to write about this week when I suddenly realised that exactly 40 years ago this Saturday I became editor of this magazine. Despite eventually getting the sack, I hung onto the job for nine years, from 1975 to 1984, which is still the longest that anyone has had it since Wilson Harris ended his 21-year tenure in 1953. The Spectator has had 15 editors since him, but none apart from myself has lasted for much more than six years. Fraser Nelson, however, looks set to outlast us all.

I am surprised how little I can remember of those years (or perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, given my drinking habits at the time), but I will never forget how they started. Henry (now 'Sir Henry') Keswick, back from 14 years in Hong Kong in a hereditary role as head of the great trading house of Jardine Matheson, bought The Spectator as a way of re-establishing himself in Britain and possibly helping him to get selected as a Conservative candidate for a seat in Parliament.

If he failed in this second objective, it was probably because he chose as editor someone with no experience of politics and without any useful political connections. That was me; and the only reason he chose me, Max Hastings wrote at the time in the Evening Standard , was that I was 'the only journalist he knew'. I had known Henry since childhood; his father was my father's best friend; his mother was my godmother; we had been at both school and university together. So, yes, he knew me; but it was nevertheless bold of him to entrust the loss-making Spectator to someone so unqualified for the task.

I had been a journalist for the previous 11 years, nearly all of them at Reuters, most of which I had spent abroad as a correspondent, first in Paris and then Rome. But I wasn't just ignorant of British politics; I knew nothing of literary London or of the people who frequented it. I had read the New Statesman a bit in my youth, but never The Spectator . I had never voted Conservative. Nobody but Henry could possibly have chosen me for the job.

I also had serious doubts about accepting it. When I decided to do it, it was basically for two reasons. …

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