Craig Brown

Was his diary his downfall?

The audiotape of Alan Clark’s Diaries — barely mentioned in this rather Dr Watsonish, sensible shoe of a biography — is well worth hearing.

The audiotape of Alan Clark’s Diaries — barely mentioned in this rather Dr Watsonish, sensible shoe of a biography — is well worth hearing.

The audiotape of Alan Clark’s Diaries — barely mentioned in this rather Dr Watsonish, sensible shoe of a biography — is well worth hearing. Alan Clark narrates them himself, in a wonderfully high camp, pantomime manner, reminiscent of Kenneth Williams reading the Just William stories. 

It’s a rib-tickling comic turn, and adds a new dimension to the original book, an additional mirror reflecting on the first mirror at a jaunty angle. Clark’s semi-parodic tone acts as a sort of wry critique on the diaries, which are themselves, of course, a wry critique on his life. Observing himself observing himself, Clark uses every inflection of his voice to bring out the humorous and the grotesque, the essential absurdity and self-delusion of Clark the anti-hero.

What is the effect of a diary on its author? Inevitably, it gives a staged quality to the life. In her biography of Samuel Pepys, Claire Tomalin suggests that his diary allowed Pepys to divide himself in two — to become, as it were, both the actor and his audience, both the man of the world and the dispassionate observer of that man of the world. As a man, Pepys could be vain, randy, ambitious and deceitful (much like another parliamentarian 300-odd years later), but as the observer of that same man he was able to hover, eagle-eyed, overhead, recording, however unfavourably, his own ways. 

In the past few weeks, there have been grumbles from Alan Clark’s old enemies, fed up with all the praise flying in his direction. ‘Alan Clark was not wonderful’, wrote Dominic Lawson in the Independent. ‘He was sleazy, vindictive, greedy, callous and cruel.’ So he was, but then so, too, was Samuel Pepys; perhaps even more so.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in