Saturday 2 May 2009
Dylan Jones: Money and intelligence gave Alan Clark a freedom denied even to the most gifted politicians
Talk Of The Town
There are many people no longer around who I'd have liked to interview, but one of my biggest regrets is not meeting the great Alan Clark, with whom I was due to have lunch just a month before he died, 10 years ago this autumn. But it was only watching Thatcher, the recent drama starring Lindsay Duncan, that made me think how much I still miss Clark. He was played effortlessly by Michael Cochrane, an actor who specialises in playing upper-class characters with a suaveness that hides their villainy.
Clark was no villain though, and for some remains a role model of sorts, as the cad by which other cads are measured, a man whose bad behaviour was offset by an almost-total disregard for public opinion. Clark was once described as the "greatest vaudeville act" in modern British politics. Occasionally some left-wing harpy would take him to task for his indiscretions, castigating him for his mid-afternoon rendezvous, unaware that Clark was a hero to many who'd never admit so in public.
Money and intelligence gave Clark a freedom denied even to gifted politicians, never mind the common toads of the committee corridor. It wasn't just his honesty the public liked, it was his incorrigible rudeness, something both instantly appealing and, in Westminster at least, meant to stay undisclosed. He was literate, astringent and joyfully insolent. He once said to his colleague Sir Geoffrey Howe, who was attired in a dinner jacket, "Bring us three Bucks Fizzes and keep the change." And then turning to Margaret Thatcher, he explained deadpan, "The head waiter wants to know what you'd like to drink."
Of course, to be a truly great Tory MP, particularly one whose DNA determines that you won't be a stranger to the sort of publicity that Clark appeared to cherish, you must have a supportive wife, and Clark had one of the best. When his superior, Tom King, was involved in a minor car crash, Clark's wife Jane asked, "No hope of it being serious?" And after the lurid details of his seduction of a South American judge's wife and two daughters hit the press, she said, without a hint of irony, "If you bed people of below-stairs class, they will go to the papers."
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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