When I saw an email from Lucy, the lady who has the unenviable task of editing my copy each week, I knew something was wrong. And sure enough it was. The bad news was that my first editor at my beloved Spectator had died. Forty years, gone in a jiffy.
It was back in 1977, and I had gone to Turin to pick up a new car on my way to Paris. Back then one had to drive the first thousand miles slowly, while breaking in the engine. (Yes, I know: a bit like wearing spats and a monocle, but that’s how it was in those prehistoric days.) Driving a fast car slowly is like lying next to a beautiful girl but not being allowed to touch her: very frustrating. So to pass the time I thought up a story and memorised every word; it took about eight hours. I then typed it up and flew to London.
I had met Alexander Chancellor only once. I was introduced to him by the Speccie’s then deputy editor Simon Courtauld in the course of an unbelievably riotous summer party. (Everyone was drunk.) Over the telephone he told me to meet him at Brown’s hotel, where, I believe, he was having a drink with an MP, Norman Lamont, now Lord Lamont. I didn’t stay long. I handed him my copy, said I hoped that he could use ‘this fluff’, and left. The piece was about how one could immediately tell an Englishman abroad. (They had bright-red peeling noses, knees and elbows, used flashlights to go over the bill in dark French nightclubs infuriating the Algerian waiters, and danced in a spastic manner scaring nearby French couples.)
It was, as the saying goes, the start of a beautiful friendship.