Richard Ingrams' Week: Irving was the author of his own downfall

Share

In 1969, after David Irving's support for Rolf Hochhuth, the German playwright who accused Winston Churchill of murdering the Polish wartime leader General Sikorski, The Daily Telegraph issued a memo to all its correspondents. "It is incorrect," it said, "to describe David Irving as a historian. In future we should describe him as an author."

If only the memo had been adhered to. Because the surprising thing is that not only is Irving still referred to as a historian but also that until recently he was supported by many people who, unlike him, actually deserved the description.

Irving has a long record of a total contempt for historical truth. His very first book, The Destruction of Dresden (1963), claims that more people had been killed in the Allied bombing of Dresden than at Hiroshima. He was later forced to admit that he had exaggerated the number of deaths by between five and 10 times.

Despite this, Irving had no difficulty in finding publishers. Even after yet another book, this time on the PQ17 convoy which led to huge libel damages awarded against him, he quickly found another publisher, Hodders, for Hitler's War in which he famously stated that Hitler had known nothing about the Holocaust.

The strange thing was that in historical circles none of this seemed to damage his reputation. Even as recently as April 2000, when he again lost a libel action, The Daily Telegraph's military historian Sir John Keegan could support him. Disregarding the earlier editorial memo, he wrote that Irving "has many of the qualities of the most creative historians ... he still has much that is interesting to tell us".

It was partly due to the support of people like Keegan that Irving was able to go on earning a living from his books. Had he been a humble journalist, he would have been on the dole years ago. But at least he wouldn't now be in prison.

New police guidelines, same old story

The shocking story of the Thames Valley Police who failed to go to the aid of a family being massacred by a crazed man with a shotgun has followed predictable lines.

It was retold at an Oxford inquest last week when it was again reported how the police not only stayed away from the house, apparently out of concern for their own safety, but refused even to allow paramedics to go in to assist two girls who were dying - even though they knew that the killer had fled.

In accordance, the time-honoured custom was upheld of not giving the names of any of the officers concerned. Nor was there any talk of any of those responsible being disciplined, let alone dismissed from the force.

Instead, the familiar mantra was repeated about lessons being learned. New guidelines and procedures were being introduced, and the public could be reassured that a similar disaster would not happen again.

Local MP Boris Johnson proclaimed himself thoroughly satisfied with the proposed changes. It was only surprising that nobody said anything about drawing a line under the whole affair and moving on.

We should not be at all surprised by any of this because it is just a repeat, at a lower level, of what happens in the higher reaches of our national life.

Thus the men responsible for the Iraq fiasco - notably Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith - are still in office and still in the posts that they occupied at the time.

And they have not even expressed any regret for their actions, let alone given any assurances that the same sort of thing will not happen again.

* A reference to Elgar's "Nimrod Variations" in Prince Charles's memo to his friends reminds one that His Royal Highness is surprisingly ignorant especially for someone who likes to pontificate on all matters cultural.

It is not an isolated example. Sir Richard Eyre, former director of the National Theatre, recalls in his memoirs Charles's surprise, when visiting the NT, on being told that in Shakespeare's day the female parts were played by boys.

More bizarre was the experience of Sir Alec Guinness who was told by the Prince that he thought Shakespeare had written Macbeth as a joke.

But Charles is famous for his views about architecture. Yet James Lees-Milne in the final volume of his diaries describes a conversation with Charles, noting that he seemed never to have heard of Osbert Lancaster - a strange omission from a man who claimed to have inherited the mantle of John Betjeman.

Once again one recalls the wise words of the late Sir Denis Thatcher, "Whales only get shot when they spout." It has been frequently said in recent days that the Royal Family is obliged for reasons of state to remain neutral, as the Queen has done for many years.

There is another very good reason for not spouting, namely that by doing so you may undermine any remaining mystique that may be attached to the Royal Family. As that famous Republican Tom Paine wrote: "Monarchy is something kept behind a curtain, about which there is a wonderful air of seeming solemnity. But when, by any accident, the curtain happens to be open and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is a small friendly village prim...

Ashdown Group: Development Manager - Hertfordshire - up to £55,000

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Development Manager - Wel...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Sammie Welch, 23, was given a note praising her parenting skills with Rylan, three  

Praising a stranger for looking after their child isn't kind — it's the parenting equivalent of cat-calling

Sophie Zadeh
 

Money, money, money… Where is Apple’s inexorable rise going to lead?

Chris Blackhurst
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore