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Crossman As Editor

In response to:

Dissatisfactions of Power from the March 31, 1977 issue

To the Editors:

It is far from clear to me why the reviewer of Richard Crossman’s Diaries should be Clive James (NYR, March 31); perhaps he is an authority on Cabinet government, though that would be news to many. What he says about Crossman’s editorship of the New Statesman is entirely misleading.

Crossman did not run the paper into the ground. There has been a steady fall in circulation under Crossman’s predecessor, under Crossman himself, and under his successor (although Anthony Howard is a capable editor, in my opinion). The reasons probably include the increasing serious attention paid to television; the great expansion of the Sunday papers and their fat supplements; the several price increases of the NS in a period of inflation. Perhaps the age of the journal d’opinion is over, at least in this country. Perhaps the NS needs an entirely new formula. The proposition that it was all Crossman’s fault is both superficial and untrue.

Failing to see the matter in this light, the Board panicked and fired Crossman. This was seen as an injustice by everyone connected with the paper. The staff reacted by demanding that they should have a voice in any future decisions of the kind, so that the Board should never again be able to behave in this arbitrary manner.

About Crossman’s editorship, Mr. James writes: “Among the contributors, even his admirers were demoralized by the way he dealt with them. His blue pencil unerringly removed their best paragraphs.” I know most of the NS contributors and I can confidently say that this is wholly untrue. For myself I am far from being an unqualified admirer of Dick Crossman and I had far-reaching political disagreements with him; the fact remains that, of the eleven articles that I contributed during his editorship, all appeared exactly as I wrote them.

It is true that Kingsley Martin prevented Dick Crossman from being his successor in the editorial chair. It doesn’t at all follow, as Mr. James imagines from his detached position, that this tells us anything decisive. Martin, who was a superb editor but also a vain and touchy man, may well have found it intolerable to be succeeded by someone who would have been as striking a figure as he was himself. At all events, he arranged that his immediate successor as editor should be a grey and uninspiring figure.

Mervyn Jones

London, England

Clive James replies:

Correcting what he supposes to be my misleading account of R.H.S. Crossman’s editorship of the New Statesman, Mervyn Jones might at least try not to give a misleading account in his turn. If the Board had fired Crossman without at least the tacit consent of the staff, the biggest uproar in all creation would have broken out. As it happened, the staff were generally agreed that Crossman had to go. Despite the eleven articles by Mervyn Jones, the paper was in a mess.

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