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

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Cover Supervisor Ugently Required In Sefton Area **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunity for Secondary...

Music Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
“You're running away!” Nick said to me the other night as I tried to leave the hospital  

In Sickness and in Health: ‘There’s nothing I want more than to have you at home, but you’re not well’

Rebecca Armstrong
 

Daily catch-up: Ed Miliband on low pay; Alan Johnson on Betjeman; Tom Freeman on editing

John Rentoul
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments