Alan Clark

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The Right Honourable
Alan Clark
Alan Clark cropped.jpg
In office
1 May 1997 – 5 September 1999
Preceded by Constituency Created
Succeeded by Michael Portillo
In office
28 February 1974 – 9 April 1992
Preceded by David Owen
Succeeded by Gary Streeter
Personal details
Born 13 April 1928
London
Died 5 September 1999(1999-09-05) (aged 71)
Saltwood Castle, Kent
Political party Conservative
Residence Saltwood Castle
Religion Anglican[1]

Alan Kenneth Mackenzie Clark (13 April 1928 – 5 September 1999) was a British Conservative MP, historian and diarist. He served as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher's governments at the Departments of Employment, Trade and Defence, and became a privy counsellor in 1991.

He was the author of several books of military history, including his controversial work The Donkeys (1961), which is considered to have inspired the musical satire, Oh, What a Lovely War!

Clark became known for his flamboyance, wit and irreverence. Norman Lamont called him "the most politically incorrect, outspoken, iconoclastic and reckless politician of our times".[2] He is particularly remembered for his three-volume diary, a candid account of political life under Thatcher and a moving description of the weeks preceding his death, when he continued to write until he could no longer focus on the page.

Clark was a passionate supporter of animal rights, joining activists in demonstrations at Dover against live export,[3] and outside the House of Commons in support of Animal Liberation Front hunger-striker Barry Horne.[4] When he died after radiation therapy for a brain tumour, his family said Clark wanted it to be stated that he had "gone to join Tom and the other dogs."[5]

Early life[edit]

Clark was born at 55 Lancaster Gate, London, the elder son of art historian Kenneth Clark and his wife Elizabeth Winifred Clark née Martin. His sister and brother, fraternal twins Colette (known as Celly) and Colin, were born in 1932. At the age of six he went as a day boy to Egerton House, a preparatory school in Marylebone, and from there at the age of nine went on to board at St Cyprian's School, Eastbourne. Clark was one of the seventy boys rescued when the school building was destroyed by fire in May 1939, and relocated with the school to Midhurst.

In September 1940, with the Luftwaffe threatening the southeast, the Clarks moved their son to a safer location at Cheltenham College Junior School. From there he went to Eton College in January 1942. In February 1946 while at Eton he joined the Territorial training regiment of the Household Cavalry based at Windsor, but was discharged in August when he had left Eton.[6] He then went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Modern History under Hugh Trevor-Roper, obtaining a third-class honours degree. After Oxford he wrote articles for the motoring press before he went on to read for the bar. He was called to the bar in 1955 but did not practise. Instead, he became a military historian.

Historical writing[edit]

Clark's first book, The Donkeys (1961), was a revisionist history of the British Expeditionary Force's campaigns at the beginning of World War I. The book covers Western Front operations during 1915, including the offensives at Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge and Loos, and ending with the dismissal of Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, and his replacement by Douglas Haig. Clark describes the battle scenes and criticises the actions of almost all the generals involved in the heavy loss of life that occurred. However much of the book is based on the political manoeuvres behind the scenes as commanders jostled for influence, and Sir John French's difficulties dealing with his French allies and with Herbert Kitchener. Haig's own diaries are used to demonstrate how Haig positioned himself to take over command. Clark does not reflect on Haig's performance as Commander-in-Chief or on the battles of 1916 and 1917.

The book's title was drawn from the expression "Lions led by donkeys" which has been widely used to compare British soldiers with their commanders. In 1921 Princess Evelyn Blücher published her memoirs, which attributed the phrase to the German GHQ in 1918.[7]

Clark was unable to find the origin of the expression. He prefaced the book with a supposed dialogue between two generals and attributed the dialogue to the memoirs of Falkenhayn. Clark was equivocal about the source for the dialogue for many years, but, in 2007, a friend Euan Graham recalled a conversation in the mid sixties when Clark, on being challenged as to the dialogue's provenance, looked sheepish and said, "Well I invented it".[8] This invention has provided a major opportunity for critics of "The Donkeys" to condemn the work.

Clark's choice of subject was strongly influenced by Lord Lee of Fareham, a family friend who had never forgotten what he saw as the shambles of the BEF. In developing his work, Clark became close friends with historian Basil Liddell Hart, who acted as his mentor. Liddell Hart read the drafts and was concerned by Clark's "intermittent carelessness". He produced several lists of corrections which were incorporated, and wrote "It is a fine piece of writing, and often brilliantly penetrating".[9]

Even before publication, Clark's work was coming under attack from supporters of Haig, including his son and historians John Terraine, Robert Blake and Hugh Trevor-Roper, former tutor to Clark, who was married to Haig's daughter.[10] On publication, The Donkeys received very supportive comments from Lord Beaverbrook, who recommended the work to Winston Churchill, and The Times printed a positive review.[11] However, John Terraine[12] and A. J. P. Taylor[13] wrote damning reviews and historian Michael Howard wrote "As history, it is worthless", criticising its "slovenly scholarship". Howard nonetheless commended its readability and noted that descriptions of battles and battlefields are "sometimes masterly".[14] Field Marshal Montgomery later told Clark it was "A Dreadful Tale: You have done a good job in exposing the total failure of the generalship".[15] The book was considered to be the inspiration for the popular pacifist musical Oh! What a Lovely War and Clark, after legal wrangles, was awarded some royalties.

The book became popular with the reading public as provocative and entertaining, and reflected the public attitudes at the time. In more recent years, as the pendulum has moved in favour of Haig and the British generals, the work has been criticised by some historians for being one-sided in its treatment of World War One generals. Brian Bond, in editing a 1991 collection of essays on First World War history, expressed the collective desire of the authors to move beyond "popular stereotypes of The Donkeys" while also acknowledging that serious leadership mistakes were made and that the authors would do little to rehabilitate the reputations of, for instance, the senior commanders on The Somme.[16]

War Museum historian Peter Simkins complained that it was frustratingly difficult to counter Clark's prevailing view.[17] Professor Richard Holmes made a similar complaint, writing that "Alan Clark's The Donkeys, for all its verve and amusing narrative, added a streak of pure deception to the writings of the First World War. Its title is based on 'Lions led by Donkeys'. Sadly for historical accuracy, there is no evidence whatever for this; none. Not a jot or scintilla. The real problem is that such histories have sold well and continue to do so. They reinforce historical myth by delivering to the reader exactly what they expect to read".[18] Clark's work was described as "contemptible" by the Marquess of Anglesey who regarded Clark as the most arrogant and least respectable writer of the War. In this case, there was "form" as Anglesey's history of the British Cavalry had been reviewed by Clark with the comments "cavalry are nearly always a disaster, a waste of space and resources."[19]

Journalist Gary Mead, in conjunction with Professor Hew Strachan of Oxford University, and Dr. A. R Morton of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, criticised Clark's use of passages written by Haig to demonstrate Haig's own "incompetence" in his book, The Good Soldier. He wrote, "Alan Clark['s] .....own 1961 anti-Haig book, The Donkeys, shamelessley wrenched Haig's words out of context".[20] Graham Stewart, Clark's researcher for The Tories noted "Alan wasn't against quoting people selectively to make them look bad".[21] Bond maintained that Clark criticised British Generalship, most of all Haig, for its "obsession" with cavalry, which was obsolete in industrial warfare.[22]

Bond and John Bourne write that cavalry had rarely been used on the Western Front in the First World War, or indeed in the decade leading up to the war. By 1915–1916, the Cavalry Corps was reduced from five to three divisions, and soon constituted less than three percent of the British Army.[22] Moreover, other authors have pointed out this criticism is unjust, considering there was no other form of mobile force around; mechanisation was still in its infancy. Haig compensated for this by increasing the firepower of cavalry units and using them frequently as dismounted infantry.[23]

Clark produced several more studies of the First World War and the Second World War, including Barbarossa — after Operation Barbarossa — a history of the Eastern Front in the Second World War, before becoming involved in politics.

Political career[edit]

Completely opposed to the Common Market, Clark joined the Conservative Monday Club in 1968 and was soon Chairman of its Wiltshire branch. In 1971 he was blacklisted by Conservative Party Central Office for being too right-wing but after representations by him, and others, he was removed.[24] He subsequently became MP for Plymouth Sutton at the February 1974 general election with a majority of 8,104.[25] Harold Wilson took over from Edward Heath as prime minister of a minority Labour government. At the General Election in October 1974, when Labour gained a small overall majority, Clark's vote fell by 1,192 votes but he still had a comfortable majority with 5,188.[26] His first five years in parliament was on the Conservative opposition benches.

During the subsequent Party leadership contest he was urged by Airey Neave to vote for Margaret Thatcher but he is thought to have favoured Willie Whitelaw.[26] The following year came the free vote on the Common Market and Clark, praising Enoch Powell's speech, voted against. The next day he told the socialist MP Dennis Skinner that "I'd rather live in a socialist Britain than one ruled by a lot of foreigners."[27] Although he was personally liked by Margaret Thatcher, for whom he had great admiration, and the columist George Hutchinson, writing in The Times tipped him for inclusion in the Shadow Cabinet,[28] he was never promoted to the cabinet, remaining in mid-ranking ministerial positions during the 1980s.

Clark received his first ministerial posting as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment in 1983, where he was responsible for moving the approval of regulations relating to equal pay in the House of Commons. His speech in 1983 followed a wine-tasting dinner with his friend of many years standing, Christopher Selmes. Irritated by what he regarded as a bureaucratically written civil-service speech, he galloped through the script, skipping over pages of text. The then-opposition MP Clare Short stood up on a point of order and, after acknowledging that MPs cannot formally accuse each other of being drunk in the House of Commons, accused him of being "incapable", a euphemism for drunk.[29] Although the Government benches were furious at the accusation, Clark later admitted in his diaries that the wine-tasting had affected him. To date, he is the only Member of Parliament to have been accused in the House of Commons of being drunk at the dispatch box.

In 1986, Clark was promoted to Minister for Trade at the Department of Trade and Industry. It was during this time that he became involved with the issue of export licences to Iraq. In 1989, he became Minister for Defence Procurement at the Ministry of Defence.[30]

Clark left Parliament in 1992 following Margaret Thatcher's fall from power. His admission during the Matrix Churchill trial that he had been "economical with the actualité" in answer to parliamentary questions over export licences to Iraq, caused the collapse of the trial and the establishment of the Scott Inquiry, which helped undermine John Major's government.

Clark became bored with life outside politics and returned to Parliament as member for Kensington and Chelsea in the election of 1997. Clark was critical of NATO's campaign in the Balkans.[31][32]

Clark held strong views on British unionism, racial difference, social class, and was in support of animal rights, nationalist, protectionism and Euroscepticism[citation needed]. He referred to Enoch Powell as "The Prophet". Clark once declared: "It is natural to be proud of your race and your country", and in a departmental meeting, allegedly referred to Africa as "Bongo Bongo Land".[33] When called to account, however, by then Prime Minister John Major, Clark denied the comment had any racist overtones, claiming it had simply been a reference to the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo.[34]

Clark argued that the media and the government failed to pick out the racism towards white people and ignored any racist attacks on white people. He also however described the National Front chairman, John Tyndall, as "a bit of a blockhead"[35] and disavowed his ideas.

When Clark was Minister for Trade, responsible for overseeing arms sales to foreign governments, he was interviewed by journalist John Pilger who asked him:[36]

JP "Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human suffering (by supplying arms for Indonesia's war in East Timor)?"
AC "No, not in the slightest, it never entered my head."
JP "I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and you are quite seriously concerned about the way animals are killed."
AC "Yeah..?"
JP "Doesn’t that concern extend to the way humans, albeit foreigners, are killed?"
AC "Curiously not. No."

While involved in the Matrix Churchill trial he was cited in a divorce case in South Africa, in which it was revealed he had had affairs with Valerie Harkess, the wife of a South African barrister (and part-time junior judge), and her daughters Josephine and Alison.[37] After sensationalist tabloid headlines, Clark's wife Jane remarked upon what Clark had called "the coven" with the line: "Well, what do you expect when you sleep with below stairs types?", and referred to her husband as an "S, H, one, T".

Diaries[edit]

Clark published the first volume of his political and personal diaries in 1993, which caused a minor embarrassment at the time with their candid descriptions of senior Conservative politicians such as Michael Heseltine, Douglas Hurd, and Kenneth Clarke. He quoted Michael Jopling — referring to Heseltine, deputy PM at the time – as saying "The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy all his furniture" and judged it "Snobby, but cutting".[38][39] His account of Thatcher's downfall in 1990 has been described as the most vivid and is now accepted by most contemporary political historians as the definitive account.[citation needed] Two subsequent volumes of his diaries cover the earlier and later parts of Clark's parliamentary career. The diaries reveal recurring worries about Japanese militarism but his real views are often not clear because he enjoyed making "tongue in cheek" remarks to the discomfiture of those he believed to be fools, as in his sympathy for a British version of National Socialism.[40]

Private life[edit]

Clark married his wife Jane in 1958 when she was 16 and he was 31. They were married for 41 years and had two sons.[41]

Clark died in 1999 of a brain tumour which he was convinced was caused by his heavy cellular phone use. His diary account of his slow death has been lauded as moving and explicit. He is buried in the grounds of Saltwood Castle. After his death, the Kensington and Chelsea constituency was won by Michael Portillo.

Shortly afterwards, it was reported in The Tablet that Clark was received into the Catholic Church two months before he died (as his father had been) but chose to keep the matter private.[42] Clark's biographer Ion Trewin denied the story, saying that Clark told Westminster Cathedral's Father Michael Seed that he did not wish to become Catholic if his dogs could not also go to heaven.

Media[edit]

In 2004, John Hurt portrayed Clark (and Jenny Agutter his wife Jane) in the BBC's The Alan Clark Diaries, reigniting some of the controversies surrounding their original publication and once again brought his name into the UK press and media. An authorised biography of Alan Clark by Ion Trewin, the editor of his diaries, was published in September 2009.

Styles and honours[edit]

  • Mr Alan Clark (1928–1969).
  • The Hon. Alan Clark (1969–1974).
  • The Hon. Alan Clark MP (1974–1991).
  • The Rt Hon. Alan Clark MP (1991–1992).
  • The Rt Hon. Alan Clark (1992–1997).
  • The Rt Hon. Alan Clark MP (1997–1999).

Books[edit]

  • Diaries (three volumes, 1972–1999):
    • Volume 1 Diaries: In Power 1983–1992 (1993).
    • Volume 2 Diaries: Into Politics 1972–1982 (2000).
    • Volume 3 Diaries: The Last Diaries 1993–1999 (2002).
  • The Donkeys: A History of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915 (1961).
  • The Fall Of Crete (1963).
  • Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict 1941–45 (1965).
  • The Suicide of Empires (1971).
  • Aces High: The War in the Air Over the Western Front 1914–18 (1973).
  • The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State 1922–1997 (1998).
  • Backfire: A Passion for Cars and Motoring (2001).
  • Summer Season: A Novel.
  • The Lion Heart: A Tale of the War in Vietnam.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kay, Richard (8 December 2006). "Did Alan Clark ever become a Catholic?". Daily Mail (London). 
  2. ^ "Thatcher leads Clark tributes". London: BBC News. 7 September 1999. 
  3. ^ Macnaghten, Phil; Urry, John (1998). Contested natures (1 ed.). London: Sage. ISBN 978-0-7619-5312-8. 
  4. ^ Clark, Alan. The Last Diaries: 1993–1999. Phoenix, p. 361.
  5. ^ Lyall, Sandra. "Alan Clark, a British Scold, Is Dead at 71", The New York Times, 8 September 1999.
  6. ^ Trewin pp16-61
  7. ^ Evelyn, Princess Blücher (1921). An English Wife in Berlin. London: Constable. p. 211. 
  8. ^ Trewin 2009, pp. 182–189.
  9. ^ Trewin p. 173.
  10. ^ Trewin 2009, pp. 153–177.
  11. ^ Trewin 2009, pp. 176–189.
  12. ^ The Sunday Telegraph (London). 16 July 1961. 
  13. ^ Taylor, A. J. P. (23 July 1961). "Dairies bring doom". The Observer (London). p. 19. 
  14. ^ Howard, Michael (3 August 1961). The Listener (London: BBC). 
  15. ^ Trewin 2009, p. 178.
  16. ^ Brian Bond, ed. (1991). The First World War and British Military History. Oxford Clarendon Press. pp. 6–12. ISBN 978-0-19-822299-6. "...despite the saturation coverage of the First World War in the 1960s, little was produced of lasting scholarly value because there was so little attempt to place the war in historical perspective; books such as The Donkeys and films such as Oh, What a Lovely War tell us as much about the spirit of the 1960s as about the period supposedly portrayed." 
  17. ^ Simkins, Peter (8 December 1996). The Sunday Times (London). 
  18. ^ Holmes, Richard, Tommy, pp. xxi–xxii.
  19. ^ Trewin, p. 180.
  20. ^ Mead, Gary. The Good Soldier: The Biography of Douglas Haig. Atlantic Books. 2007. ISBN 978-1-84354-280-3, p. 6.
  21. ^ Trewin p357.
  22. ^ a b Bond, Brian. Haig, A Re-Appraisal 80 Years On, Pen & Sword, 2009. ISBN 1-84415-887-X, pp. 4–5.
  23. ^ Badsey, Stephen. Doctrine and Reform in the British Army, 1880–1918. Ashgate Publishers, London, 2003, p. 211.
  24. ^ Trewin, Ion, Alan Clark – The Biography, London, 2009, ISBN 978-0-297-85073-I ,pps: 230 & 246-7.
  25. ^ Trewin, p.245.
  26. ^ a b Trewin, p.250.
  27. ^ Trewin, p.250-1.
  28. ^ Trewin, p.251.
  29. ^ "20 July 1983". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Commons). col. 483–484. .
  30. ^ Real Lives – Channel 4's Portrait Gallery
  31. ^ "Alan Clark: A clumsy war". BBC News. 13 May 1999. Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  32. ^ 3 Alan Clark Diaries: The Last Diaries, Page 389, Phoenix Paperback 2003 Edition, 4 April 1999: I am hugely depressed about Kosovo: Those loathsome, verminous gypsies; and the poor brave Serbs.
  33. ^ Financial Times 7 February 1985 "Tory minister faces row over race remark"
  34. ^ Clark, A. The Last Diaries: In and Out of the Wilderness, Phoenix, 2003, p.219.
  35. ^ http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/R/real_lives/alan_clark.html
  36. ^ Pilger, John, Documentary:Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy, 1994.
  37. ^ Dodd, Vikram (12 June 2004). "Coven's footnote to Clark diaries". The Guardian (London). Archived from the original on 7 March 2010. Retrieved 7 March 2010. 
  38. ^ Alan Clark Diaries: In Power 1983–1992 (Wednesday 17 June 1987) 1993 Weidenfield & Nicholson
  39. ^ Gardham, Duncan (22 September 2008). "Lord Heseltine traces his roots to poverty in Wales". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  40. ^ 1 Alan Clark Diaries: Into Power, Page 280, Phoenix Paperback 2000 Edition, 8 December 1981: Frank [Frank Johnson, sketch writer for The Times] pretended he wanted to talk about the Tory Party, but he really prefers to talk about the Nazis, concerning whom he is curious, but not, of course, sympathetic. Yes, I told him, I was a Nazi, I really believed it to be the ideal system, and that it was a disaster for the Anglo-Saxon races and for the world that it was extinguished. He both gulped and grinned 'But surely, er, you mean ... (behaving like an unhappy interviewer in Not the Nine O'Clock News after, e.g., Pamela Stephenson had said something frightfully shocking) ideally in terms of administrative and economic policy ... you cannot really, er ...' Oh yes, I told him, I was completely committed to the whole philosophy. The blood and violence was an essential ingredient of its strength, the heroic tradition of cruelty every bit as powerful and a thousand times more ancient than the Judaeo-Christian ethic.
  41. ^ Collins, Laura. "Diarist and womaniser Alan Clark's wife Jane finally speaks out in an extraordinary interview". Daily Mail (London). 
  42. ^ http://www.thetablet.co.uk/page/alanclark

References[edit]

  • Trewin, Ion (2009). Alan Clark: The Biography. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85073-1. 

External links[edit]

Offices held[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
David Owen
Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton
1974–1992
Succeeded by
Gary Streeter
New constituency Member of Parliament for Kensington and Chelsea
1997–1999
Succeeded by
Michael Portillo