Skip to Content

The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

21 January 2012

2:00 PM

21 January 2012

2:00 PM

In Thought for the Day, of all places, the weird bitterness behind much Scottish nationalism was revealed. On Wednesday, John Bell of the Iona Community complained of the suffering of the Scots and asked people in the south-east of England how they would like it if their history books had been ‘written in Aberdeen’. We should not have minded a bit. Indeed, though I cannot immediately recall a schoolbook from Aberdeen, the quantity of excellent British educational material coming out of Scotland — think of Collins in Glasgow — always far exceeded the relative proportions of the UK population. So did the writers — Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan, Arthur Conan Doyle (in his historical novels) — who made vivid our island story. Lord Reith (born in Stonehaven) created, through the BBC in its early days, a Scottish version of Britishness which dominated the south-east just as much as anywhere else. John Bell thinks that the Bible insists that the Scots must be ‘a distinct people in a distinct land’. Would the BBC give airtime to a Thought for the Day which claimed that God is an Englishman?

•••

The other day, I bumped into John (Selwyn) Gummer at a dinner and we began, as many do just now, to talk about the film The Iron Lady. He is a great admirer of Meryl Streep, who plays Margaret Thatcher, for all the usual reasons, but also because Ms Streep is Mrs Gummer. She is married to Don Gummer, an American, and, according to John Selwyn, all Gummers are of the same ilk. In 2010, John took the title of Lord Deben, when he was made a peer. His brother Peter has long been Lord Chadlington. Ms Streep, who has been married to Don since 1978, obstinately sticks by her uneuphonious maiden name. Why does no one want to go by the good old Suffolk name of Gummer?

•••

I have always thought it was a bad idea for the left, from its own point of view, to go on and on about the sinking of the Belgrano in the Falklands War. This is confirmed by the reaction to the film. A friend attended a packed showing in central London. There is a scene — which did not actually take place — in which Mrs Thatcher and the generals gather in the HQ in Northwood and push ships about on maps, as in second world war films. The question is what to do about the Belgrano. ‘Sink it!’ hisses Mrs Thatcher. I think this is supposed to shock with its ruthlessness, but in fact the audience burst into cheering.


•••

In a panel discussion on the film in which Norman Tebbit, Virginia Bottomley, John Whittingdale and I took part, talk turned to what a good opera the life of Mrs Thatcher would make (an idea floated in Notes 14 June 2008). I suddenly realised that the aria of ‘The Lady’s not for turning’ would be ‘La donna è immobile’.

•••

Rather belatedly, we have caught up with the cult Danish detective programme The Killing. It is wonderful, and I do not regret devoting 20 hours of my life to 20 November days in rainy Copenhagen. What others may understandably have missed, however, is that the series is a savage indictment of the state funding of political parties. One reason it is so difficult to catch the killer is that the crime is all mixed up with a car belonging to the party of the mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann and the state-subsidised flat in which the first of the gruesome assaults that end in murder are committed. Because a fleet of cars and this expensive accommodation are available to a large number of party people, it is tremendously hard for the police to work out who did what when and where. If Hartmann had had to buy the flat with his own money, this confusion would have been avoided, making the series roughly half as long. Indeed, it is possible that poor young Nanna Birk Larsen would never have been raped and murdered in the first place. Yet still Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee for Priggishness in Public Life, ploughs on, calling for state funding to be introduced here. It cannot be said too often that government ownership of political parties is a far greater corruption than the sale of a few peerages to unappealing businessmen.  

•••

After I recently reviewed a biography of Hewlett Johnson, the pro-Stalin ‘Red Dean’ of Canterbury from the 1930s to the 1960s, I received an interesting email from a man who had worked in what was then called the ‘guided weapons’ industry in the 1950s. He had helped, he told me, on developing an ‘active’ (as opposed to ‘heat-seeking’) missile which had a radar dish on its front. It sent out signals and received an echo so that it could find its target. Wittily, this missile (which was never deployed) was called the ‘Red Dean’. I wonder if, when later secrets are exposed, we shall find plans for other missiles constructed on these ‘echo’ principles called ‘Michael Foot’, ‘Monsignor Kent’, ‘Lord Stansgate’ etc.

•••

A more admirable Dean of Canterbury was Victor de Waal, who is still alive. One of his distinctions is to be the father of Edmund de Waal. It was by being brought up in the Deanery at Canterbury that Edmund first acquired the aesthetic attentiveness which helped him become a leading potter, and later to write his fascinating bestseller about his Jewish Ephrussi ancestors and their art, The Hare With Amber Eyes. Because of his clerical connection, I invited Edmund de Waal to speak to the AGM of the Rectory Society, of which I am chairman, and he kindly agreed. The meeting starts at 6 for 6.30 in St Paul’s Knightsbridge, Wilton Place, SW1, on Tuesday 31 January. Entry costs £20 for non-members.

•••

As I write, I am just off to take part in the BBC’s Question Time. For this, which involves a lot of prep and travelling, in this case to Shrewsbury, I am to be paid £150. I first took part in the programme in, I think, 1985, and my memory is that I was paid £150 then. The BBC director-general, on the other hand, is paid approximately ten times what his predecessor received at that time.


Show comments
Close