Books

ALAN CLARK: THE BIOGRAPHY – By Ion Trewin

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009; paperback Phoenix Books, 2010

Alan Clark The Biography jacket image small

MP, minister in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, military historian. Alan Clark will, though, more likely be remembered as a remarkable diarist (likened to Samuel Pepys and Chips Channon) in which as well as being extraordinarily frank about the Conservative government and his colleagues (Charles Powell, secretary to Margaret Thatcher, described him as ‘the Lucifer of the Thatcher government’), he revealed himself as a serial womaniser, with Simon Hoggart, however, calling him ‘a philanderer in love with his wife’.

This revealing biography, which has been authorised by Jane Clark, his widow, has had full access to the extraordinary treasure trove of papers at the Clark family home, Saltwood Castle in Kent. The full and complete picture of Clark’s life – his father was the noted art historian, Kenneth Clark (of Civilisation fame) – also benefits from interviews with members of his family, former political colleagues, fellow military historians, friends from schooldays and Oxford – and many others besides.

ALAN CLARK: A LIFE IN HIS OWN WORDS – the Edited Alan Clark Diaries, 1972-1999 – edited by Ion Trewin Phoenix paperback, 2010.

The complete published diaries  in one volume, slightly abridged, but also containing one fascinating additional entry that turned up in a file at Saltwood Castle marked ‘insurance policies’.

DIARIES INTO POLITICS1972 -1982 /Alan Clark – edited by Ion Trewin Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2000; paperback Phoenix Books, 2001

aaaaaaaaThe prequel to the celebrated Alan Clark Diaries begins with Alan aged 44 setting out on his political career as he endeavours to get selected as a Conservative candidate. It ends with the Falklands War in 1982 which elevates him into the spotlight as he gives his views across the media. The knowledge of militaria that he had accumulated since a child paid off. Critics loved it.  ‘A cocky, rackety hypochondriac and probably the best diarist of his century’ – Lynn Barber, Daily Telegraph. ‘Very reminiscent of that great diarist James Boswell and, at times, of Samuel Pepys himself’ – Andrew Marr, The Observer. ‘The second volume of Alan Clark’s diaries is easily as wickedly indiscreet and entertaining as the first’ – Economist.

THE LAST DIARIES 1993 -1999 /Alan Clark – edited by Ion Trewin Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2003; paperback Phoenix Books, 2004

The first two volumes of Alan Clark’s were irresistible, irreverent, infamous, outrageous. This last volume is a fitting finale to the work of a man who has been described as ‘the best diarist of his century’.

The third volume begins in 1991 with Alan Clark contemplating quitting as an MP. Life at Saltwood Castle, his home, hangs heavy; then comes the Scott inquiry and the Matrix Churchill affair. Publication of the first volume of the Diaries leads ‘the coven’, a family of former girlfriends, to sell their story to the News of the World.

This volume follows his attempts to return to Westminster, an infatuation that threatens his marriage, and closes with the tragedy of his final months when he is diagnosed with a brain tumour. He keeps writing up his diary until he can no longer focus on the page, when for the final weeks of his life Jane, his wife, takes over.

THE HUGO YOUNG PAPERSTHIRTY YEARS OF POLITICS OFF THE RECORD edited by Ion Trewin    Allen Lane,  2008; paperback Penguin, 2009

Hugo Young was one of Britain’s leading journalists for over thirty years, first on the Sunday Times, where he was political editor and deputy editor, and then as the Guardian’s senior political commentator. On his death in 2003 he was called ‘the Pope of the liberal left’, but for the last decade or more of his life there was really no more admired and respected journalist in any position on the political spectrum.

One of the secrets of Young’s success as a journalist was that he was exceptionally well informed. Politicians from every major party, senior civil servants, judges and public figures of all kinds talked to him off the record, discussions which then informed the judgements he made when he wrote. Most of his interlocutors were unaware that straight after their telephone conversation, meal or meeting with Young had finished, he meticulously wrote down exactly what had been said, together with his own immediate impressions of whoever he was talking to. B

By 2003, Young’s records from such conversations amounted to a million and a half words. From this extraordinary archive Ion Trewin, who knew Young since they were colleagues in the 1960s, has made a selection which presents a unique record of what many of the leading figures in British political and public life were thinking, frankly and without the distortions of hindsight, for more than three decades. The result is one of the most gripping and informative books about British politics published for many years.

Chris Patten wrote in The Guardian (December 6, 2008): ‘Young’s notes of his political conversations, cleverly researched by Tim Radford and beautifully edited by Ion Trewin, assemble some of the most interesting and valuable raw history of our times. This is not the single focus of the self-centred diary of a bit-part shit or of a grander political beast on the post-retirement financial make; this is what a balanced and intelligent man found out about what was happening in Britain and beyond over a generation. For anyone interested in the politics of our times, this is a gold mine. Bring your drills, hammers and chisels, and start digging.’

Young’s first interviewee, Douglas Hurd, later Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, and one of his regulars for the whole of the period of this book, judged him thus: ‘His success was partly achieved by creating a conversation between two people roughly equal in status and knowledge. His own preconception sometimes appeared, as is natural in a conversation between equals, but never in a way which interrupted the even flow of discourse. He did not distort what he heard.’ The Hugo Young Papers shows Young’s central place in the nexus between politics and journalism in Britain and provides a historical document of the first rank.

THE PROFESSIONS : JOURNALISM by Ion Trewin (David and Charles 1975)

NORFOLK COTTAGE by Ion Trewin (Michael Joseph 1977)

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