My Mentor: Clive Aslet on Max Hastings
'Max could write leaders while smoking a cigar and speaking to cabinet ministers'
Monday 15 September 2008
Everyone knew of Max Hastings because he is a huge figure through his war journalism. He is also a very endearing type of Englishman which people respond to well. I encountered him first when he was editor of the Daily Telegraph and took one of my articles.
Doing pieces for the Telegraph gave me a lot of confidence. I would go and meet him occasionally but it was quite a terrifying experience because he's got such a short attention span. He was very staccato and direct, which was a lesson to me, though not one I've found it easy to apply.
Anything he asked anyone to do he could probably have done better himself. He had an amazing capacity for writing leaders or 1,000 word articles in 40 minutes while smoking a large cigar, dealing with other important issues and speaking to Cabinet ministers.
The great thing about him was that he ran his papers as a kind of club where everybody felt they were contributing, even people like me who rarely went in to the office. He also always knew exactly what it was he wanted and was very decisive. He told you in no uncertain terms what he expected you to do, and if he had asked a person to write about a subject he knew they could do, then he didn't mess about with it, unlike some editors. Then he would take the trouble to thank you. All of which is the ideal recipe for editorship.
His move from the Daily Telegraph to the Evening Standard was rather unexpected because he was such a countryman. But he did get a lot of articles about rural subjects in, which was splendid as a lot of people were commuting to London from the country.
He wrote for Country Life a number of times and he came to some of our centenary events so I got to know him a little, though he is quite a traditional Englishman who doesn't reveal his thoughts and emotions very much. He's such a figure in British journalism that to receive a call from Max is always quite a special event.
Clive Aslet is editor-at-large of 'Country Life'. His new book 'The English House' is published by Bloomsbury.
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