A Week in Books: The transformation of Alan Clark

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The BBC suspended Robert Kilroy-Silk's show after a single bigoted rant. So what does Auntie do with the reputation of another smarmy failed politician, who spent a lifetime praising Nazism? The answer, of course, is to convert the late Alan Clark into a sort of naughty uncle for the nation, and transform his diaries into an upmarket sitcom on BBC4.

It was the biographer John Campbell, bravely puncturing the Clark balloon in an Independent review, who flagged up the rabid Nazi sympathies that pervade the famous journals. In the late Seventies, Clark often flirts with the idea of ditching the Tories to join the kindred spirits of the National Front. When two NF members visit him, "I thought how good they are, and how brave is the minority, in a once great country, who still keep alive the tribal essence". At the time, the NF was a semi-criminal conspiracy run by gruesome fanatics whose tame boot-boys committed countless acts of violence.

Clark tells Frank Johnson of The Times that "I was a Nazi, I really believed it to be the ideal system". Moreover, "the blood and the violence was the essential ingredient of its strength". He fantasises a lot about Nazi generals, dignifying his Westminster scrapes by evocations of their epic bloodbaths. At a diplomatic dinner, he shocks a German with a statement about "the genetic need for racial purity". Naturally, Clark adores Enoch Powell for his racial politics, and loathes generous, fair-minded Willie Whitelaw for his. Later, in the ageing roué's brief assault on power and descent towards Götterdämmerung, he identifies with the beleaguered Hitler (coded as "Wolf" in the diaries).

Anti-Semitism recurs like a Wagnerian leitmotif. When father Kenneth is ennobled in the same event as Granada TV's Sidney Bernstein, Clark "muttered and mumbled about 'Jews' in order to discomfort his relations". In his final year, 1999, the Kosovo conflict figures as a fight between "loathsome, verminous gypsies" and "those poor brave Serbs".

Safely departed, Clark has achieved apotheosis as a minor deity of the media toffs. Point out his impenitent extremism and you'll stand accused of wrecking the party as a PC spoilsport. He only did it to annoy, because he knew it teases? I rather think not. Here was Mosley's manifest successor, and Le Pen's cross-Channel counterpart. To revisit the three volumes of his Diaries (in their slipcased edition from Phoenix paperbacks) is to scent not a charming blend of gin and perfume - the BBC pretence - but an authentic whiff of sulphur.

The fascist or quasi-fascist imagination in Europe bred a handful of really compelling writers: D'Annunzio in Italy, Céline in France, Jünger in Germany. My compliment to Clark would be to explain his nihilistic gloom and patrician scorn with reference to acridly memorable voices such as these. Nazism worked, at root, as a pagan cult of death. And all of Clark's dominant traits exactly match its romantic morbidity: from his narcissism and hypochondria to his cultural pessimism, his obsession with deadly weapons, and his taste for dangerous cars and even more dangerous liaisons.

Strong stuff for the British palate: hence the BBC now conspires with the Clark claque to depict this would-be Wotan as a cheeky chappie from a Carry On romp. Yet too long an exposure to the Diaries can induce a state of near-suicidal misery - just because Clark has the gifts to transmit his despair. He can make Samuel Beckett sound like Terry Wogan. Forget silly comparisons with Pepys, whose ebullient curiosity about the world and all its people seldom drooped. The Diaries reveal a man whose "tribal essence" consisted not in randy bonhomie but brooding melancholia. For his mistresses, a tryst with Clark in a dark spell (and there were many) must have felt like sleeping with a skeleton.

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