Forty-five Decembers ago this magazine was edited by Iain Macleod MP, later chancellor. Macleod died in July 1970, a month after the Tories took office. His daughter Diana, up in town for the Red Cross’s Christmas fair, shows me a stash of her father’s papers she recently found. They include detailed documents preparing for the Heath government’s first budget, and a 1962 note from Macleod to the foreign secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, advising him that young Diana had inadvertently admitted the Russian spy, Commander Ivanov, to her birthday party. Douglas-Home writes back: ‘As we have already had a word about this, I will put no more on paper.’ Diana has little memory of Ivanov but she does recall the night of her father’s death. Macleod had a heart attack at 11 Downing Street. ‘The duty doctor turned up four hours late and was drunk. Heath had come through from No. 10 and was in his dressing gown. He didn’t do anything useful like ringing for an ambulance. Just stood there, hopeless, helpless.’ A month later Heath dined at the grieving Macleod family’s new flat in Tufton Court (11 Downing Street had been relinquished within hours). Hoping to put the Prime Minister at his ease, someone made a casual enquiry about some matter in the news. Heath snapped: ‘I can’t tell you any important things like that.’ And they say that Gordon Brown is a ditherer who lacks the social touch.
Here in Herefordshire we have a new vicar who is married, delivers a sermon without notes (an art most MPs have lost) and has a vigorous voice. Male, too. That will please our friend Vernon who still holds out against female clergy with all the defiance of Noah. This otherwise admirable clergyman wears an earring. Harrumph. The ladies of the parish tell me not to be such an old poot and are no doubt right. Yet when I look up at the pulpit, the candlelight ricochets off the fellow’s earring, twinkling like Long John Silver’s gold tooth. It seems to be jeering, ‘This is the new world, matey — we earrings are the masters now.’ Could be worse, I know. Could be through his nose. Could be a dangly job, as worn by Masai tribesmen. The vicar’s earring is little bigger than the head of a drawing pin. Perhaps he had it inserted in a moment of teenage folly. Perhaps it is stuck. Earlobes fatten with age. In a few years’ time that rivet could look like a stud in a clubland armchair.
To the Royal National Theatre (lefties hate that ‘Royal’ prefix and have almost driven it from usage) for its Christmas show. Nation is anti-religious, anti-British and has bad language. Lots of ‘arseholes’, ‘buggers’, ‘bloodys’ and at least one ‘shit’. Sorry to be explicit but it is worth taxpayers — and that includes you, Zac Goldsmith — knowing what London’s main subsidised theatre is serving up as festive fare for ten-year-olds. The RNT’s chairman is the former Whitehall magnifico Sir Hayden Phillips, one-time underling to Roy Jenkins and Derry Irvine. Sir Hayden is a great plum pudding of the establishment, an habitué of Brooks’s and Pratt’s, a honey-toned adviser to the Prince of Wales. Would he like his grandchildren to be exposed to such language? If not, perhaps he could have a word with the theatre’s director, Nicholas Hytner, and tell him to grow up, or find another playhouse.
Rude can be good, though. Best book this Christmas is Roger Lewis’s riotously non-PC Seasonal Suicide Notes. Even better, Lewis lives in Herefordshire. Maybe that is why he has so little time for London manners. In his book he breaks convention by saying, angrily, that he has been turned down four times by the Royal Society of Literature. Looking at the Society’s website, my inbuilt leftie-ometer is soon dancing like a Geiger counter at Chernobyl. A soapy message ‘from our Chair’. Grisly picture of Germaine Greer and Will Self. Another of Philip Pullman boring the pants off some state school pupils.
Lewis has again been nominated to become a fellow. The sainted Philip Hensher is supporting him, even though Lewis is rude about Hensher in Suicide Notes. Tempting though it is to say that bodies like the Royal Society of Literature should be ignored, the Royal title means we should care. It offers an imprimatur of merit. How can they justify giving a fellowship to a hack like Adam Nicolson and turning down the snortingly talented Lewis?
Laura, a ‘senior account manager’ at a PR company called Taylor Herring, sends an unsolicited email. I have never met Laura. ‘Hi!’ she writes. ‘I hope your well.’ I was until I opened your email, darling. At the Iraq inquiry, meanwhile, official literature describes one of the inquiry members, Lady Prashar, as Baroness Usha Prashar. Is she the daughter of a duke?
Further liverish irritation comes on opening the Telegraph’s Court and Social page to find that Sir Ludovic Kennedy was given a church memorial service. Sir Ludovic was an agitating atheist. So why the big send-off at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford? The Dean officiated and the chaplain of All Souls gave the introduction. I suppose ‘all souls’ includes even those of snooty, mouldering humanists. Richard Ingrams tells me the clergymen managed not to mention Kennedy’s atheism. Cowards. Where does the Church draw a line? Will it open its doors to the family of Richard Dawkins, come the dreadful day? At Christmas, churches have their biggest attendances of the year. How about putting up a sign saying ‘regulars and spiritually curious only’? It might offend the message of the Nativity but it would show the atheists we meant business.