Magazine article The Spectator

Camelot Shenanigans

Magazine article The Spectator

Camelot Shenanigans

Article excerpt

Radio Camelot shenanigans

I mentioned in this column last week a programme called When the World Was Young, which was about why the British seemed captivated by President Kennedy when he entered office in 1961. In Secrets al Camelot on Radio Four (Saturday), Anthony Howard also asked if the posthumous revelations about JFK's private life had affected his reputation and how these had been hidden during his lifetime. Both questions arc difficult to answer, though in this balanced and measured programme Howard had a good try.

It was Jackie Kennedy who first coined the term 'Camelot', in an interview with Life magazine in December 1963. Unfortunately, her own diaries will not be published until 50 years after her death, which means a wait of 41 years. Much of the truth about the Kennedy White House has emerged over the years. Although, for example, I knew that Kennedy suffered from the potentially fatal Addison's Disease, I didn't realise he had so many different illnesses which, had they been divulged at the time, would have prevented him securing the Democratic nomination. Some think that the drugs he was on encouraged his constant womanising but, as this programme reminded us, his father Joseph was the same. Charles Wheeler, a former BBC Washington correspondent, thought that Kennedy's bad back might have contributed to his death. He was wearing a back brace on the day he died in Dallas. Instead of collapsing after the first shot he stayed upright and was killed by the third shot.

How, though, was all this kept quiet? Some of those close to the Kennedys clearly didn't know; others did, but didn't say anything. We heard the story of how Jackie Kennedy was showing a French journalist around the president's office when she introduced him to a member of staff, saying in French, 'This young woman is supposed to be sleeping with my husband.' Two of them were known as 'Fiddle' and 'Faddle'. There was also Mimi, a young intern who had a two-year affair with JFK. Wheeler recalled discussing this with the television commentator Walter Cronkite who said he knew nothing about it. But then he and his contemporaries observed a rule laying down that if a person's private life didn't interfere with national security or his ability to do his job they wouldn't write about it. …

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