Leading Article: Alan Clark: aristocrat, snob and entertainer

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The Independent Online
ALAN CLARK, former Tory MP and junior defence minister, dedicated his best-selling diaries to his 'beloved Jane, around whose cool and affectionate personality there raged this maelstrom of egocentricity and self-indulgence'. One of Mr Clark's egocentric indulgences has been to sleep with women who took his fancy. Among them were the wife of a former circuit judge, who has now confessed to a 14-year affair with him, and her two daughters, one of whom has also spoken. When told of what had come out, Jane Clark commented haughtily: 'Quite frankly, if you bed people I call 'below-stairs class' they go to the papers, don't they?'

Whew] The stairs at Saltwood Castle, the Clarks' grand home in Kent, must start well up the social ladder. If judges are down there with the servants and other professional folk, who is upstairs? Presumably only the upper classes and those able to live off the interest on the interest of their capital, which Mr Clark once described as the key to money management.

The same cool and affectionate lady has also said of women alleged to have slept with her husband: 'These girls have all got their sell- by dates. They're just bluebottles buzzing round a light.' But then Mr Clark himself is a monster of snobbishness, a man who can approvingly quote his fellow Tory Michael Jopling's 'damning phrase' about Michael Heseltine - that he had 'bought all his own furniture'.

All this and much more should make Mr Clark's readers hate him. As he himself admits after describing the pleasures of cornering female visitors at Saltwood: 'I fear that if I had come from 'an underprivileged background' I'd probably by now have done time for GBH, or assault, or even what Nanny calls the other.' Yet repellent though many of Mr Clark's values are, the overall effect of his book is oddly endearing.

This is partly because he is so rashly honest, partly because he cares deeply for nature and animal welfare, and partly because he writes so brilliantly. But ultimately it is connected to his snobbery. Mr Clark is preposterous. He sees himself as belonging to a class that is above conventions and even laws. If his readers largely accept him at his own estimate, it is because this talented man has become, in essence, an entertainer, many of whose best lines are at others' expense.