HOW WE MET: JON SNOW AND LORD LONGFORD
Sunday 28 December 1997
JON SNOW: Frank must have been 65 when I first met him; I was 22. It was 1970, and I'd just been sent down from Liverpool University for leading a campaign on South Africa. I was traumatised - desperate to find somewhere to purge my political sins. I knew Frank's secretary through a family connection, and discovered that he was looking for a new director for the New Horizon Youth Centre, so I got in touch.
The centre was unbelievably grotty. Frank had his number two with him - Rear Admiral Sir Matthew Slattery, former head of BOAC. It was quite extraordinary. I remember Frank in a black tie, still mourning his daughter, Catherine; he wore that tie all the time I worked there. He looked very much as he looks now - the unmistakable egg-shaped head, the wild strands of hair flying out, and the round, gold specs. He didn't really interview me; I told him that I'd been sent down from university, and he simply replied that the person who had just given up the job had been sent down from Hornsey College of Art for exactly the same thing. I started the next day.
Age isn't an important difference in our relationship now, even though there are 42 years between us. But in the early years it was very much a mentor/ protege relationship - he had very high ambitions for me. He wanted me to go in politics; he's always said I should be Prime Minister. That's obviously not a goer; but in terms of the practice of my life, such as the obligation to people less fortunate than yourself, Frank has had a huge influence on me. In a way, he was what I really wanted my bishop father to be - he represents Christian socialism in action.
The absolutely gripping thing about Frank is that he has actually lived history. Here is a man, you have to remind yourself, who has been a cabinet minister in two major Labour administrations (the Atlee and the Wilson); who has been Leader of the House of Lords; and who has vivid memories of the Thirties and the Second World War. So you can run something by him and you'll get a perspective that you can't get from anyone else. He will produce a direct parallel with something that happened in the Forties or Fifties which has a resonance with what's happening right now; and he's lived both of them.
What I love about Frank is that he is absolutely unpredictable; just as you think you've got a reactionary old thing on your hands you suddenly find that he is absolutely on the right side of an argument about fox hunting, or whatever it happens to be. You could never, ever fix Frank into any rigid socio- political formula; he is the most extraordinary conundrum. On the one hand, landed and titled gentry, and yet on the other, principled socialist. He'd much rather be talked about than not, and this is part of his personality's whole conundrum - having humility and yet loving the limelight. Who at 92 gets a chance to dominate the airways on an issue like the release of Myra Hindley? How extraordinary that the authority the press goes to is a man of 92.
Frank is always so enthusiastic; he always gives "up" accounts of life, never "down" ones. Indeed, when he was Minister for Germany after the war, so enthusiastic was he to get into Germany when the plane landed, that he didn't wait for them to put the steps up - he walked straight out of the plane door and broke his ankle. Frank is obsessed with faith, with God, with Labour, with the House of Lords, with prisons. I hop and skip from one thing to another; what's great about Frank is that, for an hour and a half, I can sit down and take time over some of the things I ought to think harder about.
What Frank has running through him is a sense of right and wrong, of justice and fairness, of caring and understanding - laced with eccentricity. He's one of the most sane men I've ever ever known - and one of the dottiest. He has a brilliant mind. He has the constant capacity to deliver and achieve; if one wandered through the pages of Hansard, you would find he speaks very regularly in the House of Lords; running through his speeches there's a constant theme of sense and wisdom - as well as probably some rather bizarre anecdotes. Because Frank has got a tremendous sense of humour - he's a wicked gossip. Of course he sees these people all the time, in the House of Lords, in politics, still goes to No 10 - he's a good source.
He wants to be usher at my wedding; he's been waiting 20 years. Virtually every time we meet, just as we're parting he'll say: "Do give my love to Madeline" - my partner - "and you do remember don't you, I want to be an usher at the wedding?" You can say that that's barmy, but actually it's a signal of affection and concern.
LORD LONGFORD: Jon is one of the few remarkable men of his generation. He is remarkable in the same way as Tony Blair is. When I look back over all those years to when Jon first came to New Horizon, I think of the electric quality that my wife observed in Blair when she first met him; Jon had that same quality about him.
There wasn't just one thing that appealed to me about him: I was glad to know his father was a bishop; I wasn't affected by the fact that he had been sacked from university; nor was I put off by it. But Jon attracted me immediately - he seemed an inspired young man at that time (as far as an older person can be inspired by a younger one; you don't get inspired, on the whole, by people much younger than yourself).
It wasn't an equal relationship at the beginning. When you're old, you feel you've got something younger people haven't: knowledge or wisdom, endurance ... On the other hand, they've got a great deal more energy than you have. Jon cycles all over the place - I never had energy like that. He generates enthusiasms just by walking in the room. I get a sparkle off him, everybody does - he's full of sparkle. He's a bold spirit - much bolder than I was at his age. He's an idealist. I was a suppressed idealist - a bit outspoken but never a revolutionary like Jon was, getting expelled from university. I was much more conventional.
Jon has remained chairman of New Horizon over all these years. He's also been President of the Prison Reform Trust. We talk about our prison work when we can, and I know Jon would be sympathetic to anything I thought, but he's resigned from the Trust because he felt he could no longer combine it with his work. He can't give full expression to his idealism while he's employed as he is; I know that he's a very strong Labour supporter, but when he interviews the top people he has to be more or less neutral - I think he finds it difficult. I've seen him interviewing Michael Howard, and he disagrees with him totally, but as an interviewer he's got to be unbiased. But I don't altogether feel for him in those situations - I know he's enjoying himself.
I still think he could have been Prime Minister. It's getting a bit late now, but I think he's got the material: he's got the idealism, he's articulate, he's got that quality of appealing to people - he cares. Jon's got a brilliant mind. He covers the whole world; politically he's dealt with everyone - I've got much more to learn from him than he has from me about what's going on in the world. He reminds me of F Scott Fitzgerald's book, Tender is the Night; at the end the hero is "awaiting his intricate destiny" - I feel Jon is awaiting his own "intricate destiny". The ideal thing for him would be to be Mayor of London. So if you want me to nominate the Mayor of London (and a nomination from me might not help anyone at all!) - I suggest Jon. He's tremendously popular with the general public, he looks wonderful, he'd be absolutely right - so, Mayor of London - that's my nomination - Jon Snow!
Most of my contemporaries are dead now; of his generation, Jon is my closest friend outside my family. You can't compare with your own family, but he is a much-admired friend, who's playing a very important part in the world. In a way he's fulfilled my hopes for him; he's a national figure - in many respects he has more influence than nearly all politicians. I'm proud of him, although that suggests I've had some- thing to do with his success; I'm proud that some young man I gave a job to has turned out so well. I only hope, somehow or other, before his career ends, he'll be able to play a still more important part.
We've met just about once a month over the years and I'm flattered that someone like him, of his age, likes to see me. Of course, I look forward to seeing him but I wouldn't like to impose myself on him. Sometimes I watch him on the news, but I don't make a practice of it; if I'm home by seven I might watch him. But the television person is only subsidiary. I just see him as the man I know: a young friend, a wonderful, inspiring personality, for whom I hope the best is yet to come; and I am proud of the fact that he likes to see me so often. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be an usher at his wedding.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
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