Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sports of the people

It is thirty years to the day that Sir Alan, or Tommy, Lascelles died. He served as a royal courtier for most of his professional life, rising to become Private Secretary to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. His name is remembered today for it was given to a set of conditions he envisaged - The Lascelles Principles - which should allow a Sovereign to refuse a Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament. But he also left behind some diaries, all the more interesting for their glimpses into privileged drawing rooms.

Lascelles was born at Sutton Waldron House, Dorset, in 1887 the son of Commander Frederick Canning Lascelles and Frederica Maria Liddell. He studied at Marlborough College and Oxford, before serving as a cavalry officer in the Bedford Yeomanry during the First World War, and subsequently becoming Aide-de-Camp to Lord Lloyd, the Governor of Bombay. On returning to England in 1920, he married Joan Frances Vere Thesiger with whom he had three children, and he was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales.

In the first half of the 1930s, Lascelles was secretary to the Governor General of Canada. Between 1935 and 1942, he served King George V and King George VI as Assistant Private Secretary; and from 1943 to 1953 he served King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II as Private Secretary. He was also Keeper of the Royal Archives. Towards the end of his professional life, in 1950, he wrote a now-famous letter to The Times setting out the conditions under which the Sovereign could wisely refuse a request of the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament - later these became known as The Lascelles Principles.

After retiring in 1953, Lascelles became chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for England, chairman of the Pilgrim Trust, and a director of the Midland Bank. He also held the office of Extra Equerry to Elizabeth II until his death, on 10 August 1981. For further information see Wikipedia or

Lascelles kept a diary all his life, and extracts from these were published, along with a selection of letters, in several volumes between 1986 and 2006. The first two - End of an Era: Letters and Journals of Sir Alan Lascelles 1887-1920 and In Royal Service: the Letters and Journals of Sir Alan Lascelles 1920-1936 - were published by Hamilton in the 1980s. Another volume - King’s Counsellor - Abdication and War: the Diaries of ‘Tommy’ Lascelles - was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2006. All three volumes were edited by Duff Hart-Davis.

John Adamson in the Sunday Telegraph said, of the most recent volume, Lascelles’ diary ‘offers fascinating and hitherto unseen glimpses of some of the most significant figures of our age . . . however, none emerges more engagingly than the diarist himself’. And Dominic Sandbrook in the Evening Standard called the book ‘an elegant and precise diary’ which provides ‘a revealing glimpse into the drawing rooms of the great during the years of crisis and victory’.

Here are a few extracts from End of an Era, in which a youthful Lascelles shows a lively sense of interest in women, other diarist, and poking fun at authority!

16 May 1908
‘Lunched in Cadogan Square, and Cynthia Charteris and Mary Vesey came on to the theatre with us. Really, I believe those two are the most perfectly beautiful pair of creatures on this earth. Cynthia is at present the lovelier of the two, but won’t be in five years’ time. Now her beauty simply strikes one like a blow the moment she enters the room - and the more one looks, the more perfect it grows. But Mary V. is far the nicer of the two; she is a person of decided opinions, and with the most delightfully impulsive manner.’

For more on the diarist Cynthia Charteris see Heartbreaking day and The Diary Junction.

27 June 1911
‘The Coronation; up at cock-crow and escorted Maud to our seats in Montagu House. I marvelled that people should have given themselves so much trouble for so singularly unimpressive a ceremony. Dined v. happily at Brooks’s with Edward; and then on through crowded streets to Downing Street, where we picked up the Prime Minister, his entire family, D. [Lister], Kath, Venetia Stanely etc. Escorted by a policeman and a detective who spoke seven languages and never opened his mouth in one of them, we plunged into Pall Mall and wondered for hours looking at the illuminations and trying to extract humour from an annoyingly sober and ordered crowd. At Trafalgar Square the PM when home to bed, and we could join more freely in the sports of the people. I had hoped someone would have recognised him and started a demonstration but except for one man who exclaimed, ‘There’s Asquith - I should like to go and break his head,’ he excited no feeling. It was fun singing Gourdouli all down the Strand, and I nearly got run in for putting a paper cap on a policeman’s helmet, and was only saved by the intervention of our escort. Poor man, he was heartily ashamed of us.’

For another diary view of that Coronation Day see - A terrible ordeal

23 October 1911
‘Up to London . . . to Callow’s shop, where I told them to send rather a jolly hunting-whip to Diana [Lister], and, as Samuel Pepys observed piously on similar occasions, I pray God do make me able to pay for it.’

21 November 1919
‘ ‘W N P Barbellion’ is dead. This must be a shock to many reviewers, who, when The Journal of a Disappointed Man appeared, with a preface by H G Wells, said, ‘You can’t deceive us. Wells wrote this book himself’. But it seems you can, for a man called Bruce Cummings wrote it, and, as I say, he’s dead, at the age of 30.’

For more on the diarist Barbellion see The lure of birds’ eggs and The Diary Junction.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Love the sinner

Lord Longford, the politician and would-be social reformer, died a decade ago today. For much of his later life, he seemed out of sync with public opinion, whether because of his stance against the gay rights movement or his early campaign for the release of Myra Hyndley, who, with Ian Brady, murdered five young persons in the mid-1960s. A collection of diary entries from the last years of his life, in the 1990s, show how committed Longford remained to Hyndley’s release, and to the idea of hating the sin but loving the sinner.

Francis, or Frank, Pakenham was born at Pakenham Castle, Northern Ireland, educated at Eton and at New College, Oxford, where he shared digs with Hugh Gaitskell. Aged 25, he went to research education policy for the Conservative Party, but this experience only served to lead him towards socialism. For a while, he also worked as a teacher, a don at Oxford, and wrote leaders for the Daily Mail.

In 1931, Pakenham married Elizabeth Harman with whom he had eight children - several of whom today are well-known writers (Antonia Fraser, for example, and Rachel Billington). In 1936, he was beaten while protesting at a Mosleyite meeting. In 1939, he joined the Territorial Army but was invalided out. Also in the 1930s, he joined the Labour Party and converted, with his wife, to Roman Catholicism.

After the war, Pakenham failed to win the Oxford parliamentary seat for Labour, but was made Baron Pakenham of Cowley and appointed a junior minister in the Labour government of 1946-1951. Subsequently, in the 1960s, Pakenham was Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords, and Secretary of State for the Colonies. In 1961, he inherited from his brother the Irish titles of Earl of Longford and Baron Longford and the UK title of Baron Silchester. He was created a Knight of the Garter in 1971.

Pakenham was a prolific author, writing on religious and biographical topics, and he was a noted prison visitor. This latter activity led him, in particular, to a long-term and highly controversial campaign to have the Moors murderer Myra Hindley released from prison. He also courted further public controversy with his negative positions on homosexuality. He died on 3 August 2001. Further biographical information can be gathered from The Guardian or BBC obituaries or from Wikipedia.

At the behest of his publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, Lord Longford kept a diary for the calendar year 1981, and this was published the following year as Diary of a Year. In 2000, Lion Publishing brought out a volume called Lord Longford’s Prison Diary based on diaries he wrote between 1995 and 1999. The book is, the publisher says, not only ‘a witness to his extraordinary commitment to and compassion for prisoners, but also a disturbing insight into what goes on in British jails in the name of justice’. Visits to well-known prisoners - Hindley and Brady, mass murderer Denis Nilsen, and spy Michael Bettany - are recorded, as are visits to sex offenders, rapists and conmen, whose names are only known to their victims.

More from the publisher’s burb: ‘Longford, more than any other outsider understands the criminal psyche. He remains one of the few public figures with a belief in the power of prison reform, but also believes that too many people are sent to prison who could be more effectively helped outside. This diary constitutes powerful evidence for his view.’ Here are two extracts.

3 December 1995
‘Yesterday one newspaper carried a prominent piece which was headed, ‘Hindley Will Make West Feel Life is Worth Living, Says Longford’. I am being asked continually if I am going to visit Rosemary West and give the same answer: I have never yet refused to visit a prisoner who requested a visit and I never will. If Rose West wishes to see me I will certainly go.

At the moment of writing, Rose West is in the hospital wing of Durham Prison, as is Myra. Myra broke her leg some time ago, and according to the paper she is being treated for a brittle-bone disorder. I met her new solicitor recently who told me she was in good form. I hope to receive a birthday card from her this week.

Rose West is being treated, not surprisingly, as a suicide risk and is widely reported as being very depressed. Her solicitor, however, insists that she is not depressed at all and hopes to move shortly to a normal wing.

The coming week I shall be making five speeches to mark my ninetieth birthday . . . There is an obvious danger of my turning these occasions into a series of ego trips. I am determined, however, to put some kind of message across. The best opportunity will occur at the press launch [of the paperback, Avowed Intent, a volume of Longford’s autobiography]. I have not had such an opportunity for years and I am not likely to have one again. Curiously enough the Rose West drama has given me an unrivalled opportunity to assert my ideal of ‘hating the sin and loving the sinner’, which has previously been lacking outside the House of Lords. For whatever reason Rose West does not seem to arouse the intense hatred which the tabloid press has taught the public to feel for Myra.’

17 December 1995
‘Another hectic week. One major television appearance, four radio programmes and a speech on penal matters in the House of Lords. One radio interviewer introduced me thus: ‘My next guest is Lord Longford, to talk about Myra Hindley, pornography and Rose West.’

I have not yet found anybody on these programmes to say to my face that Myra ought to stay in prison. I was accused by one friend afterwards of being arrogant and dismissing so-called public opinion. Maybe so. But when you have known somebody for twenty-seven years it is difficult to be patient with a ‘man in the street’ who only knows what the tabloid press tells him about.

Once again I am profoundly conscious of the gap between informed opinion and uninformed public emotions. I keep coming back to the taxi driver who told me that he felt cheated out of revenge when he heard that Fred West had committed suicide. But he knew that it was wrong to feel that way. I have to accept the fact that feelings similar to those of the taxi driver will always be widely held by the so-called general public.

Those who deal with prisoners at first-hand, the Prison Service and the Probation Service, for example, cannot fail to recognise them as fellow human beings. But to the so-called general public they will always be an alien and even menacing force. It is the business of those who care for humanity and justice to make far more effort than they have made previously to guide the public in the direction of the enlightened taxi driver. It is easy for someone like myself to say we must hate the sin and love the sinner, but it is hard enough to achieve that balance after a lifetime’s experience, still more after a moment’s reflection.’