ALAN CLARK: THE BIOGRAPHY and a new one-volume edition of Clark’s celebrated diaries, originally published in three volumes
Originally in three volumes, Alan Clark’s diaries have now been edited by Ion Trewin into one volume covering the full extent of the published books from 1972, when he, his wife Jane and his sons James and Andrew moved into Saltwood Castle and Alan was selected as the Conservative candidate for the first time, until his death in 1999 from cancer.
‘ The most compelling account of modern politics I have ever read’, wrote
Robert Harris, on the original volume
‘Staggeringly, recklessly candid…’ judged Anthony Howard
‘I think he would do well in politics if he weren’t – my profound conviction – a fascist’ Kenneth Clark on his 16-year-old son
‘No-one checked Alan except Alan himself, when he felt like it’ John le Carré
‘A philanderer obsessed with his wife’ Simon Hoggart
‘I probably have a different sense of morality to most people’ Alan Clark
‘People weren’t convinced he was a serious politician because he loved the game too much’ Alastair Campbell
‘The Lucifer of the Thatcher government: a brilliant, dark, quixotic, bawdy presence’
‘Get well soon so you can come back and give me a hard time. It is not the same without you’. Tony Blair to Alan Clark, 1999
The most recent press coverage prior to the paperback publication of ALAN CLARK: THE BIOGRAPHY appeared in the Sunday Times, 18 July 2010
Tory warrior Alan Clark dodged national service
A cache of papers has revealed one of the swaggering MP’s last secrets: he spent just one day as a real soldier and dodged national service
Alan Clark served only one day with the Household Cavalry (Johnny Boylan) As a military historian Alan Clark, the late Tory MP, lionised the Tommy fighting in the trenches of the first world war while being led by the “donkeys” of the top brass.
On his CV and in his famous diaries he hinted at his own military career rubbing shoulders with fellow officers of the Household Cavalry. But a discovery last week in a crenellated tower of Clark’s 12th century castle has uncovered one of the last secrets of the man who rose to be a junior defence minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Despite his bearing and bluster, Clark, who died in 1999 at the age of 71, served just one day as a “real” soldier. Unlike a million others in post-war Britain, he managed to wheedle his way out of doing national service.
Clark used the fact that he had done a day in the cavalry and had been a member of the army reserve while at Eton to escape two years of square-bashing and boot-polishing.
Ion Trewin, Clark’s biographer, found the evidence last week as he sifted through two bags of papers while searching for new material for future editions of his book. The paperback version of the biography will be published on Thursday.
The papers had been found in decaying box files perched out of sight on a windowsill at Saltwood castle in Kent by Jane Clark, the MP’s widow.
Trewin said: “Decades of depredations from damp and deathwatch beetle have failed to destroy vital evidence that goes some way to solving the mystery of how Clark avoided national service.”
It was known that while he was a pupil at Eton Clark took advantage of the Household Cavalry’s training regiment based at Combermere barracks in Windsor, within walking distance of the school.
Army records show he joined the colours there on February 28, 1946 but on the same day transferred to the Army Reserve. The date of his final discharge was August 31, 1946, little more than a month after he left Eton and not long before he went to Oxford to study modern history.
The new cache of letters show that Clark was later lined up for service in the education branch of the RAF.
“He must have been surprised when he came down from Oxford and suddenly gets this note saying will you present yourself for a medical,” said Trewin. “He thought he had got out of it but he hadn’t. They had merely postponed it.
“We have to assume he wrote back pleading his six months with the Household Cavalry but it was a bit like doing Officer Training Corps.”
Nevertheless, Clark’s ploy worked. One of the newly discovered letters is from an army district office in Harlesden, north London, dated November 7, 1949. It reads: “Dear sir, I am instructed to inform you that in view of your previous service you are no longer liable for service under the National Service Acts.”
His lucky escape never stopped Clark pretending he was a military man. In one CV that he prepared as a possible parliamentary candidate, he claimed that on his 17th birthday he “enlisted in the army and served in the Household Cavalry”. That would have been April 13, 1945 while war was still being waged in Europe.
Later in his diaries, which carried frank accounts of his sexual infidelities, he writes that his bath was cold and he “must make do with a quick Pirbright scrub”. A footnote explains: “The Household Division depot, where all recruits are subject to an especially arduous infantry training course.”
Clark did make the grade as a military historian, however. The Donkeys, with its criticism of first world war generals, inspired the hit musical Oh! What a Lovely War while Barbarossa partly exonerated Hitler for the disastrous Nazi invasion of Russia.
Correlli Barnett, a contemporary of Clark as a military historian and author of The Desert Generals, said: “He gave the impression of being so belligerent and military but he was astonishingly arrogant. I think Alan Clark was not merely a bounder but a cad for the way he avoided national service.”
Jane Clark said: “We never discussed how he managed to sidestep national service. But I come from an army family: my father was a colonel and my grandfather a brigadier. If I had known, I would probably have lined him up against the wall and shot him for deserting.”
FORTHCOMING PUBLIC APPEARANCES
Ion Trewin will talk about Alan Clark, his life and his work
Other reviews in the London Evening Standard by Peter Bradshaw (September 17, 2009) and The Times Literary Supplement by Richard Davenport-Hines (October 30, 2009)
ION TREWIN RECALLS HIS FIRST MEETING WITH ALAN CLARK
The Alan Clark I came to know
I first met Alan Clark in 1992 in the office of his agent, Michael Sissons who was auctioning the publishing rights in what would become the work for which ten years since his death he is now mainly remembered – his Diaries.
Alan sat in the corner of his agent’s office conducting a viva of the top three bidders in the auction. I was there representing Weidenfeld & Nicolson, where I was Publishing Director. With me I had Caroline Michel, the firm’s new marketing director. The full story of how we won the battle against the other two publishers, Faber (where by chance Michel’s husband Matthew Evans was chief executive) and Hutchinson, part of the Random House group, is told in my forthcoming biography of Alan Clark.
I was to be Clark’s editor for the remainder of his life. After the Diaries, which spent twenty weeks in the bestseller lists and has now sold half a million copies in its various hardback and paperback editions, we published what he used to call his ‘big book’ – his history of the Conservative Party – The Tories. We also produced a new edition of Aces High, his illustrated account of the first world war aerial dogfights over the western front. His outstanding account of the Russian-German conflict of the second world war, Barbarossa, was reissued and continues to reprint regularly.
At the time of his death in September 1999 from a brain tumour, he had started work on editing a second volume of his diaries. The first had been his account of the Thatcher years when he was a junior minister; Diaries into Politics was the prequel, beginning in 1972 when he was selected to fight the seat of Plymouth Sutton for the Conservatives. He won the February 1974 election and remained its MP until 1992, when he retired.
Thus when I knew Alan in the 1990s he was no longer in Parliament. He had soon regretted his retirement and for the next five years worked at getting another constituency to select him. While out of Parliament he became a newspaper columnist, made a television series to accompany The Tories, continued to indulge his passion for classic cars, and enjoyed being a personality. But he still craved to return to Westminster.
In January 1997 the Conservatives in the newly combined seat of Kensington and Chelsea met to select a candidate. With Alan one of five finalists Chelsea Town Hall was packed. That he had by then ‘a reputation’ as a philanderer, that he had caused the Matrix Churchill ‘arms to Iraq’ trial to collapse when he responded in court that he had been ‘economical with the actualite’, was not held against him. The membership of the Kensington and Churchill Conservative Party was delighted to have him as their candidate. At the May 1997 election, which saw the end of eighteen years of Conservative rule, Alan won the seat with the second highest Conservative majority in the land.
Sadly he was not to enjoy the Commons for long. In early 1999 he complained of headaches, of problems with his eyes. A brain tumour was finally diagnosed and even though an operation was thought to be successful, the cancer returned. Following his death he was buried in the grounds of Saltwood Castle, which had twice been his home – for a short time from the early 1950s when his father Kenneth Clark bought the castle, and then again from 1971 when Kenneth Clark and his wife moved to the new Garden House built on the site of the castle’s kitchen garden.
Following his death his widow Jane decided she would honour Alan’s contracts for two volumes of diaries, the prequel and subsequently what became called The Last Diaries, which covered the last seven years of his life. The decision to publish was easier said than done: Alan wrote his diaries in what he called ‘a crabbed hand’. His handwriting was never easy to read, but in the diaries he deliberately wrote in a manner that he hoped would make it impossible for anyone to read if he happened to leave a manuscript volume behind. For me, with the job of transcribing and editing these diaries, it was a question of learning a new language. Gradually I mastered most of his writing’s quirks and even became near fluent.
Jane also encouraged Weidenfeld & Nicolson to publish a selection of Alan’s motoring writings (published as Back Fire). He had been passionate about cars from an early age, bought his first Bentley while still at Eton, and when he and Jane took over Saltwood from his father one of his first acts was to build a large garage, which still houses the prime examples of his collection.
It was Jane who is 2004 decided that she would authorise a biography and asked me to undertake the task. I had no idea that it would take the best part of five years or that it would monopolise my life after I retired as Editor in Chief of Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Although hard work, it proved enormous fun. I was able to test the words of one commentator – that Alan was a ‘maverick Tory truth-teller, Thatcher idolater, animal-rights campaigner, military historian manque, cad, bounder and roué’ – against what I saw as the facts contained in box upon box of papers at Saltwood, as well as against the views of several score individuals I interviewed. Simon Hoggart, the political commentator, called him ‘a philanderer obsessed with his wife’, Charles Powell, who had been Margaret Thatcher’s private secretary, ‘the Lucifer of the Thatcher government: a brilliant, dark, quixotic, bawdy presence.’
My biography allows readers to make up their own minds.