Paul Johnson – who was a columnist for The Spectator from 1981 to 2009, and who died last week – did not merely write history: he helped to make it. His first book, The Suez War, published in 1957 with an introduction by Nye Bevan, documented the evidence that eventually led to the resignation of the Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden. In Buckingham Palace six decades later, Prince William startled him by asking about Suez. Afterwards my father asked: ‘Who was that well-informed young man?’
A demonstration against the government over Suez was also the occasion for him to get back together with the brilliant and beautiful Marigold Hunt, whom he had once invited to the Ritz but stood up. I was only the first of the results of that reconciliation, soon to be followed by my brothers, Cosmo and Luke, and sister Sophie.
Many of my contemporaries have vivid memories of visits to our home in Iver. There my father presided over idyllic Sunday lunches, improvising quizzes for us children and entertaining the Worsthornes, Frasers, Howards, Stoppards, Amises, Gales and countless others with conversation and jokes that flowed and gurgled like a bubbling stream. When the talk turned to politics, he could be combative. We children didn’t like that. Aged about six, I tackled him: ‘Daddy, why do you go on and on about Mr Wilson?’ ‘Why do you go on about the Daleks?’ he replied.‘The Daleks are important,’ I said. After lunch there were walks in Langley Park, culminating in the hunt for sixpences, hidden in a giant hollow tree where (he claimed) the Great Train Robbers had stashed their loot.
My recollection of him taking me to London on my seventh birthday is a joy: riding in a taxi, visiting the New Statesman office as the editor’s son, and then to Bertorelli’s for lunch, where he introduced me to Vicky, the great cartoonist, who was not much taller than I was.
He seemed to know everyone.