I have just finished reading Joshua Rubenstein's The Last Days of Stalin, a book I can thoroughly recommend to all who are interested in post-war European history. By and large the theme is not one for this blog but, as one would expect, Sir Winston Churchill appears in it and plays a slight equivocal role.

Chapter 6 is entitled A Chance for Peace? and deals with the opportunity the West, led by President Eisenhower, might have taken to create a more lasting peace or generally come to better terms with the post-Stalin leadership. Professor Rubenstein is inclined to blame Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, feeling more on the side of such people as the President's aide, Emmet Hughes who felt frustrated by the "obvious" opportunity created by Stalin's death, the new leadership's desire to introduce reforms (to save their own skins rather than because they had any liberal ideas) and to ease up relations with the West.

In actual fact, that window of opportunity lasted exactly two months from April 16, 1953 when Eisenhower delivered his Chance For Peace speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors to June 17 when the two-day East Berlin uprising broke out to spread to other parts of East Germany and to be put down fairly brutally by the Soviet army and the East German police. After that, any idea of German reunification on any condition could be shelved. Within less than ten days Beria was arrested and the Soviet leadership appeared to sink into another internecine warfare.

Even the two months in question were not exactly propitious. There were riots in Plovdiv, Khaskovo and Pilsen, news of discontent in the other East European colonies and uprisings in the political camps of the Gulag. The amnesty brought in immediately after Stalin's death affected only criminals with the exception of the Doctors' Plot whose "members" were released and all accusations were quashed. The politicals started demanding that their cases should be reviewed as well and in a number of camps there were genuine uprisings, usually led by Ukrainians, Balts and Poles. At first the authorities were prepared to negotiate but as they were not prepared to offer anything except slightly better working conditions there were no agreements and the uprisings were put down with great ferocity. Officially this was unknown in the West but I find it difficult to believe that some rumous had not crept out to the various security services.

Nevertheless, the book conveys a feeling of frustration and lost opportunity after Eisenhower's speech without making it very clear what concrete suggestions he should have made, except for one: a summit meeting with, possibly, Georgy Malenkov who appeared to be the leader, though only temporarily.

Eisenhower made it clear that the Soviet union should come up with some concrete proposals first but, above all, he was not a great supporter of summits, believing with some justification that during the war time ones the West had given away too much to Stalin and refusing to recognize, despite his desire to lessen the tension, that the new leadership might be more accommodating.

This is where Churchill hove into view, advocating summits, discussing with the Soviet ambassador to London, Yakov Malik, the possibility of a secret meeting with Malenkov, and speaking forcefully on the need to balance the needs of European countries with "Russia's" (i.e. the USSR's) desire for security. In the process he managed to make the Kremlin suspicious, antagonized Chancellor Adenauer and some other West European leaders and seriously annoyed the Americans. He did get a good press from the British newspapers, though.

On May 11, 1953, during the first big foreign affairs debate after Stalin's death Churchill made a speech [scroll up] in which he tried to reconcile several ideas.
Russia has a right to feel assured that as far as human arrangements can run the terrible events of the Hitler invasion will never be repeated, and that Poland will remain a friendly Power and a buffer, though not, I trust, a puppet State.

I venture to read to the House again some words which I wrote exactly eight years ago, 29th April, 1945, in a telegram I sent to Mr. Stalin: " There is not much comfort"

I said, "in looking into a future where you and the countries you dominate, plus the Communist Parties in many other States, are all drawn up on one side, and those who rally to the English speaking nations and their associates or Dominions are on the other. It is quite obvious that their quarrel would tear the world to pieces, and that all of us leading men on either side who had anything to do with that would be shamed before history. Even embarking on a long period of suspicions, of abuse and counter-abuse, and of opposing policies would be a disaster hampering the great developments of world prosperity for the masses which are attainable only by our trinity. I hope there is no word or phrase in this outpouring of my heart to you which unwittingly gives offence. If so, let me know. But do not, I beg you, my friend Stalin, underrate the divergencies which are opening about matters which you may think are small to us but which are symbolic of the way the English-speaking democracies look at life." I feel exactly the same about it today.

I must make it plain that, in spite of all the uncertainties and confusion in which world affairs are plunged, I believe that a conference on the highest level should take place between the leading Powers without long delay. This conference should not be overhung by a ponderous or rigid agenda, or led into mazes and jungles of technical details, zealously contested by hoards of experts and officials drawn up in vast, cumbrous array. The conference should be confined to the smallest number of Powers and persons possible. It should meet with a measure of informality and a still greater measure of privacy and seclusion. It might well be that no hard-faced agreements would be reached, but there might be a general feeling among those gathered together that they might do something better than tear the human race, including themselves, into bits.
The first paragraph would indicate a wilful misreading of what was going on in Eastern Europe (not a puppet state, forsooth!) and what had been going on in Poland in 1939. The rest of it mostly wishful thinking, as was a suggestion earlier in the speech that if Germany was reunited Britain could guarantee peace on the Continent - not a particularly rational suggestion in 1953.

Chancellor Adenauer showed himself to be unhappy with what he saw as an attempt to sacrifice West Germany, a democracy, in order to have some kind of an agreement with the Soviet Union. The Kremlin leadership distrusted Churchill, thinking of him, rather ironically, as the man who wanted to strangle Bolshevism at birth rather than the man who was Stalin's ally and, some would say, dupe. Molotov, the Foreign Minister, absolutely rejected the idea of a "secret" meeting between Churchill and Malenkov. Furthermore, as Pofessor Rubenstein notes, the Kremlin had a shrews understanding of Churchill's and Britain's real standing in the world despite the marks of respect paid to him.

The White House and the State Department paid their respects but pointed out that it was not clear who would represent the USSR and, in any case, the low-level talks about Korea were still getting nowhere. What would a summit achieve?
In Congress, Senate Majority Leader William F. Knowland compared Churchill's speech to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1938, a shocking objection given Churchill's ringing opposition ot Chamberlain's negotiations with the Nazis.
Shocking maybe but it does raise an interesting question: just what was it about Stalin that made Churchill, the great anti-appeaser into a full-blooded appeaser? He returned from Yalta with assurances for all who doubted in the Cabinet and in Parliament that if there was one man to be trusted on the international scene it was "Premier Stalin". He preferred to ignore the problem of people being handed over to the Communists, both Soviet and Yugoslav. And judging by the comment he made about Poland in 1953 he did not quite understand the situation in Eastern Europe despite the Fulton speech, which brilliantly defined the situation.

To be fair, there was more sense to Churchill's 1953 desire to come to terms with the post-Stalin Soviet leadership, even though his assumption that Malenkov will go on being the undisputed boss turned out to be wrong - the heirs of Stalin did exhibit various signs of wanting to negotiate over Korea as well as, possibly, Austria and Germany. They even started allowing the Russian wives of Western diplomats and military officials out of the Gulag and out of the country. But a summit or secret meetings? Could they really achieve anything?

To a great extent one can understand that this was Churchill's attempt to restore the war-time situation when he did rush around the world, having secret meetings with Stalin, among others and the big three had several summits. Churchill was missing his and Britain's position at the top and was reluctant to acknowledge the reality of the situation. Sadly, others, the White House and Kremlin for instance, did acknowledge it.

Nevertheless, it is fair to say that his comments about the need to acknowledge Russia's fears and longings for security were not that different from Germany's supposed needs in the thirties, needs that he had quite rightly dismissed at the time.

Nothing came of Churchill's suggestions. Molotov refused to agree to any meeting between Malenkov and Churchill, as did Eisenhower. The window of opportunity closed on June 17 with the uprising in East Berlin and at the end of June Churchill had a stroke, which was hidden from all though it put him out of action completely and much of his business was transacted in his name by his son in law, Christopher Soames and his secretary, Sir John Rupert "Jock" Colville. A "secret disability crisis" is one way of describing those events; I have also heard references to a coup, a very British coup. The idea of the summit, never very strong, was abandoned.


When the news came in March 2010 that one of the best loved, most admired but also most feared members of the House of Lords, Baroness Park of Monmouth, had died, there was a general mourning and not just in the House but also among the many people who had known, worked with or just sat and talked to Daphne Park over many years. These were people who had known her in the Service, naturally, and in the various sister Services (I recall meeting a Canadian former agent once who sent her all sorts of good wishes from the Mounties), people in various organizations to which she contributed whenever she could, people who had known her in Oxford and people who had met her and been overwhelmed by her knowledge, her history, personality and that impossible to define quality, charm. 

I blogged about her at the time of her death and her funeral. I tried to convey my affection and admiration for that great lady as well as the laughter that her stories generated (when it was not sheer terror).

The fact that she had been an important British agent (not a spy, if you please), rising to the position of Controller/Western Hemisphere before she retired from MI6 (SIS) was also fairly well known, as she had given interviews to a number of carefully chosen journalists and told tales to equally carefully chosen friends and acquaintances. According to Paddy Hayes, Daphne Park's biographer, some people, including her secretary and assistant of many years’ standing, regarded this with disapproval and there is some doubt as to whose idea all this publicity was. Daphne insisted that when some journalist let the cat out of the bag years after she had retired, senior SIS officers suggested that she should give those interviews; Paddy Hayes thinks it was her idea.

Whoever thought of it, the scheme was hugely successful: Baroness Park, the charming elderly lady with her firm and strongly expressed opinions, work in the House of Lords and her undeniable charm was the best possible advertisement for the Service, who could pretend in an oblique sort of way that a number of women had risen to the top or near it, a lie indirect, if ever there was one. Furthermore, Daphne never revealed more than she knew had been agreed on, as one can see from the various articles and interviews: they tend to repeat the same information, much of it reasonably well known with just the added savour of her personal experience, so far as she would talk about it. In private conversations or talks given to private organizations she tended to tell the most wonderful and exciting stories. I was privileged (as I said above) to be one of the recipients. She would swoop down on me when she felt like it in the corridors of the House of Lords where I had disconsolately collected some documents I had to read and write about, and announce that I would probably like a whisky. Of course, I did. Ensconced with a drink she would turn to me and say “I think you might be interested in my stay in Moscow (or Hanoi or DR Congo).” Off went her tales, all carefully shorn of any really secret information, but fascinating nevertheless.

The SIS (or MI6) are notoriously secretive about their history though some details do slip out. Paddy Hayes found it quite difficult to unearth really detailed information about Daphne Park’s career. He has instead, unfortunately in my opinion, decided to pad his text with speculations about how Daphne might have felt at certain moments and what she would have had to remember in a new job to prepare for the new environment. There is also a tendency for giving explanations of certain structures and activities by saying “in modern terms it means …”. This is a regrettable tendency in a number of history books that aim at the popular market. Surely even said popular market would produce readers who can cope with concepts without being told that “in modern terms that would be image management” or some such nonsense.

Daphne Park’s life story from her childhood in Tanganyika through her education in England, service in the SOE during the war (together with all the problems she had because of her stubbornness) and subsequent career in SIS where she seems to have served in some of the most difficult and interesting places, is of such interest that even a dull writer cannot make it otherwise and Paddy Hayes is far from being a dull writer. The book bowls along despite the clich├ęs and the padding. Nevertheless, with the difficulty of information gathering and reliance on personal memories, often internally censored, unanswered questions abound. Did Daphne go down to Odessa and Sevastopol to find out whether the Soviets were planning to intervene in the Suez crisis? She said yes and a number of historians have repeated that, her closest colleague of the time says no. Did she run agents in Hanoi and if so, how on earth did she manage it? No evidence seems available. What on earth was she doing in Ulan Bator? Was Marine Captain Douglas de Witt Bazata really the great love of her life? Hayes asserts this several times but produces no evidence, not even gossip. To what extent was she personally involved in the civil war that erupted in the Congo after independence and in the gruesome arrest and murder of Patrice Lumumba? Some of the answers to the last one could have been discovered through the American Freedom of Information Act but Hayes decided not to go down that path. The story he recounts is not substantially different from the one I read in my childhood in Soviet and East European newspapers.

Daphne was also involved in the negotiations with Rhodesia’s Ian Smith after UDI that led to the establishment of Zimbabwe. I am not sure she did not regret her role in it though it had grown out of her friendship with a number of East African leaders, as she fought ferociously in the House of Lords to help Zimbabwean dissidents, oppositionists to Robert Mugabe’s bloody rule and refugees.




Queen of Spies is the first biography of Baroness Park but one hopes not the last. It goes a little way beyond her retirement from SIS, telling the not altogether successful tale of her time as Principal of Somerville College and the more successful time as a Governor of the BBC. Then there is a rapid gallop through her various other achievements in the post-SIS years but not nearly enough about her time as Conservative peer with strong opinions in the House of Lords, which she loved, where she worked very hard,  and where she was much loved by colleagues and staff alike. The book would have become of unwieldy length if all this had been added in detail but let us hope that one day someone will continue Paddy Hayes’s excellent work and build on the foundation he has laid. 

Paddy Hayes:                          Queen of Spies
Daphne Park, Britain’s Cold War Spy Master

Duckworth Overlook              2015



[This is based on a review that will appear in the next issue of the Salisbury Review.]

One of the funniest episodes of the peculiar time in which Ed Miliband was leader of the Labour Party was when he stated on a visit to Israel that he could be Britain's first Jewish Prime Minister. There was a world-wide response (in which a number of my non-British friends participated), which consisted largely of the question: what about Disraeli? What, indeed?

A number of Mr Miliband's supporters tried to pooh-pooh Disraeli's claims to being the first (and, so far, the only) Jewish Prime Minister of Britain by pointing out that he had been baptized at the age of 12 and was, in fact, a practising Anglican later in life. That is so but then Ed Miliband is a practising socialist atheist and it is highly unlikely that he has ever participated in Jewish religious ceremonies unless he thought he could get some kind of a political advantage from such participation. In that respect that would be no different from him participating in, as it were, Sikh religious ceremonies, or Hindu or Muslim.

So, it is down to race and ethnicity, according to which Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield was most definitely Jewish. Indeed, as he rose in the political sphere, he became the target of numerous attacks that now we would call anti-Semitic though the expression itself was first used after his death. Some of those attacks came from Liberal politicians, journalists and historians, including Mr Gladstone himself.

Did Disraeli perceive himself as a Jew? Was he at all interested in the Jewish question? Was his policies influenced by his race as many of the accusations proclaimed? David Cesarani asks these questions in the latest biography of Disraeli. (Alas, he died at the very early age of 58 and did not see the book's publication.)

The book is part of a series published by Yale University Press, Jewish Lives, and the author begins by asking "Does Benjamin Disraeli deserve a place in a series of books called Jewish Lives?" He comes to the conclusion that he does for various reasons not just because he was born a Jew and rose higher than any other in British politics. His analysis follows Disraeli's life and looks at his books, novels and his biography of Lord George Bentinck, his colleague in the destruction of Sir Robert Peel and, let us be honest, the Tory Party.

Cesarani looks at Disraeli's family, his early life, his cavalier attitude to other people's money and the distrust felt for him by many in British politics and society. The distrust, he concludes, had more to do with Disraeli's rackety life, his debts and his various affairs. He was seen as foreign and exotic but, thinks Professor Cesarani, his Jewishness was largely subsumed in that. The first attack on him as a Jew came from Daniel O'Connell during the Taunton by-election of 1835. The attack wounded but many commentators felt that O'Connell had overstepped the marks of decency.

It was not till later in Disraeli's career that the various slurs became stronger, culminating in the ferocious attacks during the whole of the crisis of 1876 - 78 from which he emerged as the man who had won a great victory for Britain without firing a single shot or endangering a single life. That he is emerged as such for most people and, certainly, for the Conservative Party but not for all. Gladstone continued to fulminate; other Liberal writers pronounced that Disraeli's policy was not in Britain's interest but in the interest of the vaguely describe international Jewish conspiracy who naturally sided with the Turk.

In fact, Disraeli's policy, be that the purchase of the Khedive's shares in the Suez canal (on a loan from the Rothschilds, which was seen as particularly sinister, but no one else would have been able to come up with the money and the interest they received was no higher than usual) or the tortuous effort to prevent Russia from acquiring too much influence in the Balkans, let alone get to the Straits and Constantinople, was motivated by his desire to protect and aggrandize the British Empire. He could not understand why other people, for instance Gladstone, could not see this. How could the Liberal leader not realize that Russia was not in the slightest interested in the welfare of the Christians in the Ottoman Balkans but wanted to use them to push forward to the Straits and Constantinople? (One cannot help recognizing certain themes in the debates about Russia that have continued to be argued over ferociously to the present day.)

When it came to Jewish affairs Disraeli tended to drag his feet. He rarely intervened for Jews in other countries and was little more than a lukewarm fighter for their political rights in this one. He did support, more or less, Lionel de Rothschild in his struggle to be allowed to take his oath in the House of Commons without using the words "as a Christian" but the Rothschilds considered him unreliable despite their eventual close friendship and their support after Mary-Anne's death.

When one looks at Disraeli's writings a somewhat puzzling picture emerges on the subject of his attitude to Jews and Judaism. He was, in some ways, fascinated by it all but without showing the slightest interest in the history or politics. The early novels do not even refer to Jews. Later Jewish characters appeared, usually elderly wise men who "understood" the reality of the world in a way nobody else did. Sometimes there were plot lines that involved ideas of a Jewish revival in the East but these never came to anything.

If one were to try to summarize Disraeli's rather convoluted and, let us be frank, mushy attitude to the Jewish Question, one would have to list these points. Jews ought to have the same rights as Christians because it is clear that, Christianity starting as a Jewish sect, the two were inseparable and it is wrong to try to do so. This rather conveniently by-passed the liberal argument for Jewish emancipation, as that was based on questions of equality and individual rights, concepts Disraeli loathed.

He came up with the wildest theories about Semitic, Germanic and Anglo races but was convinced and repeated this at every possible opportunity that the world is divided according to some racial theory and this gave the Jews and the Anglos a great advantage. This was a particularly unfortunate as many of those who attacked him used his own so-called theories against him. Indeed, both Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the creator of modern racial theory, and Hitler quoted Disraeli to support their own sayings. When one adds to that Disraeli's propensity to explain that there is a cabal behind all world events, run largely by Jews, one can see that his influence was oddly harmful to Jews in the twentieth century.


David Cesarani comes close to saying that it was largely Disraeli's fault that the modern lethal anti-Semitism was born and grew with such rapidity at the end of the nineteenth century. That is, surely, somewhat unfair. The likelihood is that it would have existed and battened on other historic events without Disraeli's melodramatic novels and peculiar biography of his friend. The tracing of Disraeli's attitude to Jews and other people's attitude to him as a Jew is, on the other hand, an important part of the story both Disraeli's and that of modern British politics.

Certainly Benjamin Disraeli deserves to be in this series of biographies as long as nobody thinks that this is all that matters about him. Cesarani's book ends on a rather tragic note with Disraeli losing his grip on politics and dying while under constant anti-Semitic attacks. But by this time he was seen as the creator of the modern Conservative Party and a statesman of world-wide fame. A year after his death he was honoured beyond any other Prime Minister through Primrose Day and, subsequently, the Primrose League. He remains the one against whom party leaders, mostly but not exclusively Conservative, measure themselves. He is also the one about whom biographies pour out every year. This is a fine contribution to the genre, fascinating, knowledgeable and lightly written, but there will be many more.

David Cesarani:                    Disraeli
                                              The Novel Politician

2016                                     Yale University Press

This is something new on this blog. Tuesday Night Blogs have been going for several months and a number of bloggers interested in golden age detective writers (surely everyone will recognize the reference to the Tuesday Night Club) have been writing about ones decided on for the month. The first one was, of course, Agatha Christie and Curt Evans collected them all on his blog, The Passing Tramp. I took part in that but on Your Freedom And Ours. I also wrote about Ngaio Marsh, collected by Moira Redmond on Clothes in Books and about Rex Stout, collected by Noah Stewart, who is also responsible for the very fine logo specially created for the February series, about Dorothy L. Sayers that I shall be collecting with links at the end of this posting.

I have decided to shift the exercise to this blog (though there will be a link from Your Freedom and Ours) as there have been numerous references to and postings on Miss Sayers before - she was after all, a conservative thinker and writer.

My first blog is about Miss Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey and capital punishment. (I am afraid there will be spoilers.) Though I have read essays and letters by DLS I have no clear idea whether she was in favour of capital punishment but I am assuming, unless proven otherwise, that she was. Famously, Lord Peter though eager and willing to hunt down criminals, especially murderers, loses self-control and comes close to break-downs when he is successful. It is important to note that, unlike Josephine Tey' Inspector Grant who has near-break-downs because he finds himself pursuing, hounding and almost driving to suicide the wrong men, Lord Peter's neurosis appears when he gets the right man.

For all of that, he does not ever think of letting criminals go - there is not a single case of "justified murder" in any of the Wimsey novels or short stories. In Busman's Honeymoon he replies to Harriet's unreasonable question as to why it should be his hands who deliver someone to justice with the comment: "These are hangman's hands." Then he explains that he had been allowed to watch an execution once as he thought he should see it all for himself but it did not cure him from meddling. Later on in the book Harriet remembers that if it had not been for his meddling she would probably have been wrongly convicted and probably hanged. As it is, the real murderer was.

Not all Wimsey novels end with the assumption of execution but, curiously, all but one that involve Harriet do. The one exception is Gaudy Night, where there is no death only some time in the past, let alone murder. In another novel, Nine Tailors there is violent death but it is not really murder though the person responsible dies in turn - a good death, trying to save the village from flooding and another man from drowning. In yet another one, the supposed murder turns out to be suicide so, once again, Wimsey does not have a problem, especially as he also saves his brother from being hanged.

That leaves ten Wimsey novels with murder at the centre and of these one, Five Red Herrings, is really self-defence. The others are definitely murder and Wimsey finds the killers and brings them to justice, at least after a fashion. We see him going through a nasty nervous break-down in the first one, Whose Body? and the last one, Busman's Honeymoon. We also know for certain that the murderers in those books suffer the highest penalty as Freeman Wills Crofts often said at the end of his novels. The first one does not have Harriet in it but the last one most certainly does.

Strong Poison and Have His Carcase see murderers being sent to the gallows as we learn from subsequent references, especially in Gaudy Night.


Three end in suicide - in Unnatural Death the killer manages to do it in prison and Wimsey comes close to breaking down. The interesting ones are  Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Murder Must Advertise. Wimsey confronts the killer in one and has the killer seeking him out in the other. In both cases his decision is odd for a sensitive man with highly strung nerves: acting as prosecutor, jury and judge he condemns the murderers in those two novels to death by suicide instead of death by hanging. Indeed, in Murder Must Advertise he even pronounces the words as he watches the condemned man walk away: And may God have mercy on your soul.



That this should happen twice is extraordinary and it does make one wonder about Miss Sayers's attitude to capital punishment.

Other blogs on the subject are appearing. Kate Jackson is writing in Crossexamining Crime about Gaudy Night, the novel that divides readers. As befits the subject, it is a very careful analysis.

Noah Stewart writes about the various editions of Dorothy L. Sayers's books, with illustrations. The one I must find is The Recipe Book of the Mustard Club. According to Noah, most of the recipes were contributed by Mac Fleming, Sayers's husband who was a gourmet cook.

Moira Redmond casts a caustic eye over the first four Wimsey novels and points out an inconsistency or two.

Bev Hankins writes about one of the secondary characters, the Dowager Duchess, Honoria Lucasta, not one of my favourites as I tend to be allergic to charm but reading this posting I thought I might have been unfair to the old girl.

Lucy Fisher picks up some very odd "corrections" that make nonsense of the original and also some quite infuriating wrongly placed emphases.


Most readers of this blog would have heard by now of the death of Cecil Parkinson, one of the big beasts of Thatcherite politics in the eighties. He was one of several ex-future-Prime Ministers; at times it seemed that anyone who was seen as a successor to Thatcher was cursed, in Parkinson's case by his inability to run his private affairs in some kind of a seemly fashion.

In some ways his career is a modern morality play though, I think, the writer who could have done justice to him was not English but French: this son of a railway worker, grammar school boy, successful athlete and scholar at Cambridge, businessman, politician, probably the best Chairman of the Conservative Party in the late twentieth century, whose career was set back considerably by his behaviour towards his mistress and her child (and, ironically, the fact that he decided to stay with his wife)  is really a fit subject of Balzac.

What could be more fitting than a picture of him and the Prime Minister (by some accounts the only woman he was really loyal to) at the moment of his greatest triumph - the sweeping 1983 victory - when they both already knew that the storm clouds were gathering.



The Telegraph, as you would expect, has produced a highly informative and objective obituary. There is a more personal memoir from Iain Dale who thinks that Parkinson remained a dissatisfied man, not having achieved what he really wanted and was capable of. Probably true but the fault lay not in his stars but in himself.


William Pitt the Younger became Prime Minister at the age of 24 and died, on January 23, 1806, at the age of 46, exhausted by work and, let us not mince our words, the amount of port he put away every day of his life. How much more might he have achieved if not for the interminable French wars.

One of my favourite films is Carol Reed's The Young Mr Pitt, a very fine propaganda film made in 1942 with the great Robert Donat playing both the Elder and the Younger Pitt. Here is a scene between him and Talleyrand, played by Albert Lieven.

Josephine Tey has, at various times, been described as the "fifth queen of detection" after Christie, Marsh, Allingham and Sayers; in fact, she has been described as being in various ways better than most of the four. Jennifer Morag Henderson repeatedly makes the claim for her that she somehow bridges the space between Christie's emphasis on plotting and Chandler's interest in characters and environment.

It is hard to agree with that judgement: it underestimates Christie whose work was a great deal more interesting than just a series of mechanical plots and puts Tey into a category she does not belong to, that is the tough guy Chandleresque thriller writer. To be fair to Ms Henderson, she is not the first to voice that opinion but it is wrong, whoever says it. There can be no possible parallel between Inspector Alan Grant or any other of Tey's detectives and, say, Philip Marlowe, though it is true that Tey's books are more concerned with characters than plots, some of which are a little weak.

It has been an accepted theory for some time that Elizabeth Mackintosh who wrote as Gordon Daviot and as Josephine Tey was a particularly mysterious and private personality about whom virtually nothing was known. There had been books about her work and a collection of essays about her in general but Jennifer Morag Henderson's Josephine Tey - A Life is the first full-length biography and many revelations were promised. (Catherine Aird, herself a leading detective novelist, has been promising her own biography of Tey for some years but it has not appeared so far though there have been articles and essays by her and Ms Henderson has relied on them to a considerable degree.)

The new biography is fascinating, not least in that it destroys the myth of the very private Josephine Tey. In a way, the myth was always just that. After all, how many times can people insist that readers of Tey's better known books have no idea that she was also Gordon Daviot, a highly successful playwright and moderately successful novelist between the wars and during World War II when every single edition of, say The Franchise Affair or The Daughter of Time (the two most popular ones) mentions this fact? In The Daughter of Time there is even a reference to Daviot's best known play, Richard of Bordeaux.

It turns out that Beth Mackintosh who, according to her great friend Caroline Ramsden, used the different names with different friends, had a number of them and kept in touch with such people as Dodie Smith, John Gielgud, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, James Bridie as well as her sisters and at least one friend from Anstey College where she had trained to be a PE teacher. The letters are available in various collections as are notes Beth Mckintosh made and correspondence between her and her publishers and agents. Ms Henderson seems to have tracked down every piece of evidence about her subject wherever it happens to have been, collated it all and made a fascinating story out of it. Anyone who is interested in Josephine Tey, in life in Scotland in the thirties and forties and the world of English and Scottish theatre should read this book. They will not regret it - there is so much material there.

On the other hand, one must admit that there are also problems with it. Firstly, the style is clunky and full of unnecessary modern jargon. Tey herself was a brilliant and witty stylist and it is a pity that her biographer cannot come even close to it. Secondly, there is a great deal of padding and repetition - trite comments about the First World War, repeated assurances that Tey was a complex personality and kept her family and her friends apart, pages on the growth of Scottish nationalism with which she had nothing to do - all this is unnecessary when the real story is so interesting.

Finally, those mysteries. Ms Henderson found out that Gordon Daviot was busy during the Second World War, writing short stories and short plays that were broadcast by the BBC, something, as she rightly and indignantly points out, the Corporation should not have lost track of. There is also the curious fact of the third nom-de-plume, F. Craigie Howie, used only once for a play, Cornelia, produced by the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre soon after the war. Apparently only two people knew the real identity of the author, Beth Mackintosh herself and James Bridie and neither revealed it so how it became known is not clear.

The link with Hollywood is spurious and consists of a single event when Gordon Daviot, a then successful dramatist, was asked to produce a script for a film. She did not go to Hollywood but wrote the script at home; it was then sent off and re-written several times by other authors as was the custom. She was not credited though the most recent list on IMDB does give the name of Josephine Tey as one of the contributors. By no stretch of the imagination can this be called experiencing Hollywood.

Finally, those young men she is supposed to have romances with and who are supposed to have a great influence on her. Some of this comes from Catherine Aird who relies on vague reminiscences by one Beth Mackintosh's sisters. Ms Henderson discusses the likelihood of some kind of an affair with a young Scottish officer, Gordon Barber, supposedly the source of the name in Gordon Daviot, who was killed at the Somme and who had kept a diary, which does not mention Beth, and comes to no conclusions. It might have been him she remembered and mourned, it might have been another young officer, Alfred Trevanion Powell or it might have been someone completely different. One cannot help wondering whether it might not have been merely an idealized young man.

The supposed brief post war affair with Hugh Patrick Fraser McIntosh who died of TB in 1927 is presented as a fact with no supporting evidence at all, beyond the fact that Josephine Tey used the name Patrick in several books and quoted one of McIntosh's poems in To Love and Be Wise. Well, maybe. The book is given to presenting a number of "would have beens" and "might have beens" and "probablys" as facts and that is irritating in the extreme.

There really is no need for any of that. The book is based on detailed and meticulous research and presents a fascinating portrait of a very good and many-faceted writer who will no longer be hidden by rather spurious mythology. For all of that we must thank Jennifer Morag Henderson.



Jennifer Morag Henderson:         Josephine Tey - A Biography
2015                                          Sandstone Press, Ross-shire

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