Ferdinand Mount

Ferdinand Mount’s books of the year

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What strange persons get themselves chosen to govern us. I have spent quite a bit of the past year reading some brilliant lives of our prime ministers, each of them heavy enough to sprain a wrist but light enough to tickle the imagination: in historical order, David Brown’s Palmerston, D. R. Thorpe’s Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan, and Philip Ziegler’s Edward Heath. Pam, Supermac and Ted managed to put across very different images of themselves, but all three were essentially solitary and implacable personalities who kept their enmities in better repair than their friendships, all unpopular in youth and chilly in old age. No coincidence I think that they were so extreme in their relations with women: Heath virtually sexless, Macmillan ditto after Lady Dorothy betrayed him and Palmerston, by contrast, screwing everything that wasn’t nailed down, though David Brown disposes of the legend that he expired on the billiard table at Brocket Hall after seducing a maid. In reality, he had a pious Victorian deathbed, surrounded by his illegitimate children.

For those who missed Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado the first time round, I commend the handsome Virago reprint with its Lucienne Day cover. The adventures of Sally Jay Gorce in postwar Paris have lost none of their zap and charm after 50 years.