Saturday, September 19, 2009

Alan Clark- A caricature of himself.

Clarke the dandy- pictured in 1984.

The political conference season is the time that most publishers choose to publish political biographies and memoirs but the gruel is desperately thin this year- one of the worst I can remember. Ion Trewin's "Alan Clark- the biography" is one bright spot however and all the broadsheets have carried reviews of Trewin's latest work in recent days. Ion's book is very sympathetic to Clark, glossing over his obsessions (with Nazi's, women, even girls, his deeply unpleasant treatment of Jane and all the rest) while playing up his (usually) brilliant writing, his wit and his political career but it is nonetheless a good read of a man who was both cruel and flawed while being personable and talented, even likable. Some of the more sensationalist bits can be read HERE.

Clarke's diaries are the stuff of legend of course, brilliant writing combines mixing tales of power and intrigue at Westminster as (if not quite) a Thatcher insider then certainly a bit part player with Clarke's own leching and sexual successes as well as hypochondria.

It seems everyone has a memory of him.

I only met the great (but flawed) man once- at a Times literary debate between Alan Clark and John Charmley on one side who (revisiting the central thesis of John Charmely's 'Grand Alliance) were arguing that Churchill actually didn't need to work so hard and at considerable cost to GB to bring the United States into the war as it was inevitable anyway. Chaired by the then editor of The Times, Peter Stothard, this motion was opposed by a very elderly but articulate Robert Blake (The Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher) and young Turk Andrew Roberts (who had just authored 'Eminent Churchillians'). I remember being fairly amused when Clark spoke in the debate as 'a very real historian' as he was certainly in the company of three far superior ones, and his only substantial work was Clark's first book, The Donkeys (1961), a revisionist history of the British Expeditionary Force's campaigns at the beginning of the Great War that was somewhat one-sided in its treatment of British generals of the First World War that in any event had been written 30 years before the debate that evening! Afterwards there was a drinks reception in the foyer of the general synod hall of the Church of England and Clark seemed genuinely delighted that both me and my mate had bought copies of the first volumes of his diaries to sign. When he asked what I did and I told him that I had just graduated in history, he wrote in my book, "To Matthew Dean, an amateur historian from a professional one. Alan Clark". I have to admit I did laugh- but only afterwards! At that moment a Lotus 7 pulled up outside driven by a very elegant Asian looking lady and, acting in almost a characterture of himself, Alan Clark said, 'I must go' and dashed after the lady outside!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good work there, Matt, you managed to misspell both his name and the long tricky word...amateur indeed.

11:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to Dominic Lawson in the Inedpendent, Clark was a Nazi sympathiser. Still a great man, Matt?

10:07 am  
Blogger Matt Dean said...

Hello Anonymous,

I've corrected the spelling mistakes and you've taken my quote out of context- I wrote 'great but flawed'.
He was.

6:09 pm  

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