Paul Johnson

Is the former ambassador a shit, a cad or a rat?

Is the former ambassador a shit, a cad or a rat?

The bad behaviour of Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador in Washington, raises interesting questions of nomenclature. Should he be called a shit, a cad or a rat? I rather rule out rat as being tabloid-speak, and Meyer, though he has a lot to do with tabloids (as chairman of that humbugging body, the Press Complaints Commission), and actually flogged his memoirs to one, is not himself tabloid material, being dull and colourless. The Sun and the Mirror often refer to men who deceive their wives as ‘love-rats’. How do they refer to a red-haired tabloid editor who gets drunk, beats up her tough-guy actor husband and spends the night in a police cell? The answer is that they simply kill the story.

Leaving rats aside, for the time being, is Meyer a shit or a cad? I recall Evelyn Waugh debating this point in the case of Tom Driberg, who did odd jobs for MI6 and the KGB, and double-crossed both. Waugh and the Old Cottager had been at Lancing together, an academy, curiously enough, also attended by Meyer. Very high church, its principal feature is its enormous Gothic revival chapel, which I have often glimpsed on my way to Brighton, though I never attempted to inspect it more closely, the odour of Anglo-Catholic sanctity being disinfectant. Driberg was much interested in arcane theology, and gave my History of Christianity a learned review. I often saw him at Muriel’s Bar but declined his invitation to ‘come up to my flat so we can talk about the Gnostics’. When Waugh posed the question: ‘Is Driberg more of a shit or a cad?’ he answered: ‘Of course, he’s both.’ Muriel had her own term for Driberg, a ‘cuntie’, but it was Winston Churchill who had the last word on him: ‘He brought sodomy into disrepute.’

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