Magazine article The Spectator

Whiffs of the Past

Magazine article The Spectator

Whiffs of the Past

Article excerpt

History will prove me right,' said Anthony Eden on being told that Nasser had died. No it won't. History can't prove anything. It's in a permanent dither. History hasn't yet figured out Richard III. If History were able to leap out of the lab shouting `Eureka! We've just proved Anthony Eden was right about Suez!' there wouldn't be any need for programmes like Reputations (BBC 2). History involves endlessly chewing and re-chewing the same material. As with the whole of this series, the fascination lies not so much in the events and their interpretation (Eden was probably wrong about Suez, probably wrong about the Common Market, and only right about Hitler after a fit of pique) but in the social details of the time. I liked his American mistress, who pointed out that in her day all the upper class were shagging each other with an enthusiasm which made Steve Norris look like a dilettante (or `knobbing nobs' as the Sun would possibly have put it, had it had been published at the time).

At least, unlike an earlier Reputations subject, Liberace, Sir Anthony didn't have his lover's face cosmetically altered to resemble his own. This would have offended the strict etiquette of the day, which was fascinatingly illustrated by Bill Deedes: `He occasionally preferred the double-breasted waistcoat - something which I have always had a slight doubt about, and my tailor has always had a slight doubt about . . . he was always pretty correct about the neck, though.' The late Alan Clark thought that `he smelled delicious, whatever Trumper's had just made up . . . ' Like Jermyn Street unguents, these programmes bring a powerful whiff of the past which will be worth preserving while historians continue their unfathomable debates.

The Talk Show Story (BBC 1) was fascinating too. At first in the 1950s the hosts were humble broadcasting mid-range celebrities, middle-aged chaps in glasses whose job was to make the stars look even more glamorous by comparison. Then Johnny Carson, David Letterman - they became richer and more famous than the people they were interviewing. Next the show began to disappear up its own fundament as the guests became mere straight men for the comical host - Mrs Merton, Alan Partridge, Ali G. Already we've had straight hosts interviewing non-existent guests, as when Michael Parkinson has Dame Edna Everage on to do his turn. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.