Geoffrey Wheatcroft is the author of The Controversy of Zion, The Strange Death of Tory England, and Yo, Blair! (February 2016)

Walpole: The House & the Letters

Horace Walpole’s country house, Strawberry Hill, in the nineteenth century
“It is a little play-thing-house,” Horace Walpole wrote to Henry Seymour Conway in June 1747, “and is the prettiest bauble you ever saw. It is set in enamelled meadows, with filigree hedges.” Six years later he was able to tell his friend Sir Horace Mann, the lifelong British resident in …

Britain: The Implosion

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meeting for the first time since the general election, Edinburgh, Scotland, May 15, 2015
In October 1951 the prime minister decided to call a general election. He wrote to the leader of the opposition informally (“My dear Churchill”) to let him know, before Parliament was dissolved, and polling day took place less than three weeks later. Clement Attlee was displeased by the outcome, with …

How the Murdoch Gang Got Away

When Rebekah Brooks left Murdoch’s employ in 2011, after the revelation about the hacked phone of the murdered girl, his company not only made her a very large payment but agreed to cover all her future legal costs. This prudent foresight on her part paid off handsomely when she was defended at the Old Bailey by a team of the most experienced and expensive solicitors and Queen’s Counsel money could buy.

The Hedonist King Who Knew His Place

The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, 1871; photograph by Alexander Bassano
Two summers ago Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. And it really was a happy celebration, despite the English weather, with a great procession of boats down the Thames and street parties and bonfires across the land. This was only the second such sixtieth anniversary any British monarch had …

The Queen and the Camera

Count de Montizon: The Hippopotamus at the Zoological Gardens, Regent’s Park, 1852

Photography, and Queen Victoria’s interest in it, emerged into public light with the Great Exhibition of 1851, partly Prince Albert’s brainchild. Many of the astonishing six million people who visited the exhibition in Hyde Park saw photographs for the first time, a number of which can be seen at a new exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum and in the handsome accompanying book by Anne M. Lyden, both called “A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography.”

The Charms of Rex Whistler

Rex Whistler: Self-Portrait, 1940
After the somber broadcast on September 3, 1939, in which Neville Chamberlain said that Hitler had persisted with his assault on Poland “and that consequently this country is at war with Germany,” there was little overt patriotic ardor in England. Even when Winston Churchill succeeded Chamberlain as prime minister the …

He Shut Out the Horrors

P.G. Wodehouse at Hunstanton Hall, Norfolk, England, September 1928
Two great English writers, both born in 1903 and not so dissimilar in background, stood far apart in their work and their beliefs: George Orwell the socialist agnostic essayist (and novelist) and Evelyn Waugh the conservative Catholic novelist (and essayist). But they knew one another—Waugh visited Orwell in the sanatorium …

Churchill or Bust?

Winston Churchill with his daughter Mary on his way to receive the Freedom of the City of London, June 1943
But what did happen to the bust in the White House—or was it busts? One of the subplots to last year’s often dispiriting presidential election campaign was the fate of a bronze bust of a foreign politician born 138 years ago. As The New York Times reported, “the question of …

Downing Street Liars’ Club

One of the best traditions of English public life is the official inquiry, sometimes parliamentary, sometimes judicial. What gives inquiries their value isn’t the conclusions they come to, which can be perverse or distorted by partisanship, but the evidence they hear and place on record. And so with the Leveson inquiry into the press. Whatever recommendations Lord Justice Leveson eventually makes, we have been spellbound by the testimony he has heard. To add a certain amusement value, the last few weeks have been notable for utterly contradictory testimony from different witnesses, several of them present or former leaders of the country. Someone is being economical with the truth, or just lying.

What Rupert Hath Wrought!

Rebekah Brooks, then chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s company News International, with Murdoch and his son James at the Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival, March 18, 2010. Brooks resigned from News International in July 2011 after the Guardian reported that the News of the World had engaged in phone hacking in the early 2000s while she was its editor. In May 2012 she was charged with “conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” for concealing materials from police investigating phone hacking and bribery allegations.
Why did the News of the World editors and the News International executives persist in a denial they knew to be false when it was obvious that, the longer they persisted, the more damaging the effect would be if the truth emerged? The answer must be that long experience had conditioned them to think that News International enjoyed special immunity, conferred by politicians and also by the police, and that they could get away with it. After all, they had got away with everything else for so long, thanks to Murdoch’s aura of invincibility and the way that successive governments had been hypnotized by him.

Can They Ever Make a Deal?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at peace talks at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, November 2007
On September 23, 2011, two national leaders addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. One spoke of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people…ethnic cleansing…colonial settlement…sixty-three years of suffering… while for the other, his country was unjustly singled out for condemnation…the one true democracy in the …

The Truth About Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch, 1988

Along with the other media he has mastered, from tabloids to satellite television, Rupert Murdoch has recently taken to Twitter. On February 15, he tweeted, “To hell with politicians! When are we going to find some to tell the truth in any country? Don’t hold your breath.” His words remind us yet again that Murdoch is a man of iron nerve, not say brass neck, though they might also suggest a degree of delusion. Throughout his career, every time he has come near calamity, that gambler’s strong nerve has always somehow managed to rescue him. But the concatenation of scandal and disaster that has now engulfed his News International group—which owns the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World as well as the London Times and other papers—is of a different order.

Letting Murdoch in Through the Back Door

Rupert Murdoch

The real story is not Murdoch’s papers and the repulsive methods used by their reporters: it’s the force and blatancy of Murdoch’s political influence through those papers. Although responsibility for the appalling conduct of his papers ultimately rests with Murdoch, the blame for the way he has exercised so much indirect political power lies with those politicians who have for so long knelt before him. Cameron is the latest, and may yet prove the greatest casualty. But it must be said that not even Cameron was as cynical and unprincipled in his dealings with Murdoch as Tony Blair had been.

Hello to All That!

‘Vague Tommy (writing letter). “Wot day is it?” Chorus. “The fourteenth.” Tommy. “Wot month?” Chorus. “October.” Tommy. “Wot Year?”’ This cartoon, by James Henry Dowd, first appeared in Punch in 1917; it and the cartoon on page 32 are collected in The Best of Punch Cartoons, edited by Helen Walasek and published recently by Overlook Press.
When World War Two came, it reflected the previous war, but in contrasting ways. If the British went to war again, it was not as exultant swimmers leaping into cleanness but as unenthusiastic citizen-soldiers, and by the time he led his country Churchill himself knew that casualties on the scale of the Somme were now unthinkable.

NO, Prime Minister

Tony Blair and George W. Bush with their aides at Camp David, Maryland,
a week after the invasion of Iraq, March 2003. In the center of the background 
is Blair’s communications chief, Alastair Campbell.
No one who experienced the elated atmosphere of the American presidential election two years ago and who had also been in London in May 1997 could fail to be reminded of the similar mood when Tony Blair won his first general election. He makes the comparison himself. Just as Blair …

The Voice of Unconventional Wisdom

US Marines pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, Baghdad, April 9, 2003
Early in the last century, H.N. Brailsford was among the most influential English writers on international relations. One of his books, The War of Steel and Gold, ended with the ringing assertion that “there will be no more wars among the six Great Powers.” That was published in the late …

Digging for Moles

Guy Burgess, a member of the Cambridge Five spy ring who passed information to the Soviets from the 1930s until his defection to the USSR in 1951, sunbathing on the shore of the Black Sea, 1956
In 1938, Roger Hollis joined MI5, the British internal security service, sister agency (not that sororal relations were always affectionate) to MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service: spy-catchers and spies respectively. He would serve with MI5 for twenty-seven years, rising to be deputy director-general in 1953, and director-general three years later.

An Honor For Tony Judt

John R. Rifkin On April 22 in London, the judges of the Orwell Prizes, given annually for the book and for the journalism that have best achieved George Orwell’s aim to “make political writing into an art,” awarded a Special Prize to Tony Judt, whose Reappraisals (reviewed in …

Conor Cruise O’Brien, 1917–2008

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Belfast, Northern Ireland, February 1962
One of the effects of great longevity is that even without ending as the proverbial forgotten man, someone may seem a relic from a very remote age. Most people reading this won’t even have been born in 1946, when The Bell, a Dublin little magazine, published a clever, sharp essay …

What Disraeli Can Teach Us

In one of his best essays, Isaiah Berlin compared two astonishing contemporaries, both of them “famous, influential, exceptionally gifted.” Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) and Karl Marx (1818–1883) were men of letters who hoped to become men of action, both addressed the great question of class conflict but from totally different angles, …


Fifty years ago, a fictional spy who had gradually become famous suddenly became notorious. Dr. No was the sixth of the books that had been appearing since 1953 when Ian Fleming, a restless, cynical English newspaperman, published Casino Royale, and with the words “The scent and smoke and sweat of …

Churchill and His Myths

At the end of 1936, Winston Churchill’s fortunes had sunk as low as he would ever know. His career had long resembled Snakes and Ladders, the nursery board game where a shake of the dice leads to either a brisk ascent or a downward slither. Already famous in 1900 when …

Eminent Edwardian

If they can honestly and accurately recall themselves at twelve, many middle-aged men will have happy memories of the Boy Scouts. If they were dutiful scouts, they will also remember reading Scouting for Boys, the Koran of the scouting movement written by its prophet, Lord Baden-Powell (1857–1941). A distinctive self-portrait …