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

Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country's Independence Day in New Delhi, India  

With Modi talking tough and Sharif weak, the India-Pakistan love-in could never last

Andrew Buncombe
At the time of the investigation Patrick Foster published a statement on Twitter, denouncing the “unnecessarily heavy-handed police investigation”  

Long-term bail allows lazy police and prosecutors to leave cases to gather dust

Oliver Wright
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment