Christopher John Penrice Booker (born 7 October 1937) is an English journalist and author. In 1961, he was one of the founders of the magazine Private Eye, and has contributed to it since then. He has been a columnist for The Sunday Telegraph since 1990. He has taken a stance which runs counter to the scientific consensus on a number of issues, including global warming, the link between passive smoking and cancer, and the dangers posed by asbestos. In 2009, he published The Real Global Warming Disaster.
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With fellow Salopians Richard Ingrams and Willie Rushton he founded Private Eye in 1961, and was its first editor. He was ousted by Ingrams in 1963. Returning in 1965, he has remained a member of the magazine's collaborative joke-writing team ever since (with Ingrams, Barry Fantoni and current editor Ian Hislop).
From 1959 to 1962, he was the first jazz critic for the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs. In 1962 he became the resident political scriptwriter on the BBC satire show That Was The Week That Was, notably contributing sketches on Home Secretary Henry Brooke and prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home which have often been cited as examples of the programme's outspoken style.
From 1964 he became a Spectator columnist, writing on the press and TV, and in 1969 published The Neophiliacs: A Study of the Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties, a highly critical analysis of the role played by fantasy in the political and social life of those decades.
In the early 1970s he campaigned against the building of tower blocks and the wholesale redevelopment of Britain's cities according to the ideology of the modern movement. In 1973, he published both Goodbye London (written with John Betjeman's daughter Candida Lycett Green), and, with Bennie Gray, was the IPC Campaigning Journalist of the Year. He made a documentary for the BBC in 1979 on modernist architecture called City of Towers.
In the mid-70s he contributed a regular quiz to Melvyn Bragg's BBC literary programme Read All About It, and he returned to The Spectator as a weekly contributor (1976–1981), when he also became a lead book-reviewer for The Sunday Telegraph.
In 1980, he published The Seventies: Portrait Of A Decade, and covered the Moscow Olympics for the Daily Mail, publishing The Games War: A Moscow Journal the following year. Between 1988 and 1990 he wrote the Daily Telegraph`s The Way of the World column (a satirical column originated by Michael Wharton), and in 1990 swapped places with Auberon Waugh to become a weekly columnist on The Sunday Telegraph, where he has remained to this day.
Between 1986 and 1990 he took part in a detailed investigation, chaired by Brigadier Tony Cowgill, of the widely publicised charges that senior British politicians, including Harold Macmillan, had been guilty of a serious war crime in handing over thousands of Cossack and Yugoslav prisoners to the Communists at the end of the war in 1945. Their report, published in 1990, presented those events in a very different light, and Booker later published a lengthy analysis of the controversy in A Looking Glass Tragedy (1997).
From 1992 he focused more on the role played in British life by bureaucratic regulation and the European Union, forming a professional collaboration with Dr Richard North, and they subsequently co-authored a series of books, including The Mad Officials: How The Bureaucrats Are Strangling Britain (1994); The Castle of Lies (1996); The Great Deception (2003), a critical history of the European Union; and most recently Scared To Death: From BSE To Global Warming, Why Scares Are Costing Us The Earth (2007), a study of the part played in Western society in recent decades by the 'scare phenomenon'.
In 2004, he published The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, a Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning, on which he had been working for over 30 years. The book was dismissed by Adam Mars-Jones, who objected to Booker employing his generalisations about conventional plot structures prescriptively: "He sets up criteria for art, and ends up condemning Rigoletto, The Cherry Orchard, Wagner, Proust, Joyce, Kafka and Lawrence – the list goes on – while praising Crocodile Dundee, ET and Terminator 2". Fay Weldon wrote "This is the most extraordinary, exhilarating book. It always seemed to me that 'the story' was God's way of giving meaning to crude creation. Booker now interprets the mind of God, and analyses not just the novel – which will never to me be quite the same again – but puts the narrative of contemporary human affairs into a new perspective. If it took its author a lifetime to write, one can only feel gratitude that he did it". Roger Scruton described it as a "brilliant summary of story-telling".
Views on science
Booker's weekly columns in The Sunday Telegraph have covered a wide range of topics of public interest. Booker has been described by English columnist James Delingpole in The Spectator as doing "the kind of proper, old-school things that journalists hardly ever bother with in this new age of aggregation and flip bloggery: he digs, he makes the calls, he reads the small print, he takes up the cause of the little man and campaigns, he speaks truth to power without fear or favour". On a range of health issues, Booker has put forward a view that the public is being unnecessarily "scared", as detailed in his book Scared to Death. Thus he argues that asbestos, passive smoking and BSE have not been shown to be dangerous. His views on these matters go against scientific consensus, and as a result have attracted much criticism from other journalists as well as public bodies. Thus his articles on asbestos and on global warming have been repeatedly challenged by George Monbiot of The Guardian, and the UK Health and Safety Executive has repeatedly refuted his claims about asbestos.
Booker has repeatedly claimed that white asbestos is "chemically identical to talcum powder" and poses a "non-existent" risk to human health, relying primarily on a 2000 paper for the UK's Health and Safety Executive by John Hodgson and Andrew Darnton. He wrote in January 2002 that "HSE studies, including a paper by John Hodgson and Andrew Darnton in 2000, concluded that the risk from the substance is "virtually zero". In response, the HSE's Director General, Timothy Walker, wrote that Booker's articles on asbestos had been "misinformed and do little to increase public understanding of a very important occupational health issue." The Health and Safety Executive issued further rebuttals to articles written by Booker in both 2005 and in 2006. In an article in May 2008, Booker again cited the Hodgson and Darnton paper, claiming that 'they concluded that the risk of contracting mesothelioma from white asbestos cement was "insignificant", while that of lung cancer was "zero"'. This article was also criticised by the UK's Health and Safety Executive as "substantially misleading", as well as by George Monbiot, who argued that Booker misrepresented the authors' findings. Booker's claims were also critically analysed by Richard Wilson in his book Don't Get Fooled Again (2008). Wilson highlighted Booker's repeated endorsement of the alleged scientific expertise of John Bridle, who in 2004 was convicted under the UK's Trade Descriptions Act of making false claims about his qualifications
He had previously claimed that the Climate Change Act 2008 was "the most expensive piece of legislation ever put through Parliament", and likely to cost hundreds of billions over the next 40 years. In May 2009 Booker spoke at an International Conference on Climate Change organised by The Heartland Institute. In the Autumn of 2009, he published The Real Global Warming Disaster. The book, which became his best-selling work, claims that there is not actually a consensus on climate change, and postulates that the measures taken by governments to combat climate change "will turn out to be one of the most expensive, destructive, and foolish mistakes the human race has ever made". The book was characterised by Philip Ball in The Observer as being as "the definitive climate sceptics' manual", in which "he has rounded up just about every criticism ever made of the majority scientific view that global warming, most probably caused by human activity, is under way, and presented them unchallenged". Ball went on to note that Booker's position required the reader to believe that "1) Most of the world's climate scientists, for reasons unspecified, decided to create a myth about human-induced global warming and have managed to twist endless measurements and computer models to fit their case, without the rest of the scientific community noticing. George W Bush and certain oil companies have, however, seen through the deception. 2) Most of the world's climate scientists are incompetent and have grossly misinterpreted their data and models, yet their faulty conclusions are not, as you might imagine, a random chaos of assertions, but all point in the same direction."
In December 2009, Christopher Booker and Richard North had published an article in The Sunday Telegraph in which they questioned whether Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was using his position for personal gain, with a follow-up Telegraph article in January 2010. On 21 August 2010,The Daily Telegraph issued an apology, and withdrew the December article from their website having reportedly paid legal fees running into six figures. Dr Pachauri described the statements against him as "another attempt by the climate sceptics to discredit the IPCC."
Booker has also argued in support of intelligent design, claiming that supporters of the theory of evolution "rest their case on nothing more than blind faith and unexamined a priori assumptions".
Family courts controversy
Christopher Booker has written a number of articles raising concerns about the Family Court system in England and Wales. But his writings on this issue have also drawn criticism from the judiciary for alleged inaccuracy. In a High Court judgement in April 2011, Judge Bellamy stated that: "Mr Booker's articles contain significant factual errors and omissions", and took issue with Booker on two cases he had covered:
"In the first article Mr Booker gives the impression that it was 'faint bruising' which prompted the parents to take L to hospital and which gave rise to what he clearly regards as the over-zealous and unjustified actions of social workers working for the same local authority so recently criticised by me in Re X, Y and Z (Children). As he will come to understand when he reads this judgment, it was in fact L's floppy arm which prompted his parents to take him to hospital. That floppy arm was the result of a spiral fracture of his left humerus. X-rays showed that he also had six metaphyseal fractures. In his first article Mr Booker makes no mention of any of those fractures. It was those fractures which led to the safeguarding measures taken – and in my judgment appropriately taken – by this hospital and by this local authority."
"In his second article Mr Booker asserts as fact that in this case 'the council has depended, in its campaign to seize this baby, on the same controversial paediatrician about whom the judge was so excoriatory'... I shall refer to that doctor, as I did in Re X, Y and Z (Children), as Dr M. At no time has Dr M had any involvement at all in the case I am now concerned with. Indeed, to the best of my recollection his name has never even been suggested as a possible expert to be used in this case".
Booker has championed the cause of Victoria Haigh, bringing him into further conflict with the judiciary. According to the High Court, Haigh falsely claimed that her former husband had sexually abused their daughter and coached the child into backing up the story, going on to spread the allegations on the internet and in her local community when the courts rejected them as a fabrication.
- The Neophiliacs: A Study of the Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties (1969)
- Goodbye London (written with John Betjeman’s daughter Candida Lycett Green) (1979)
- The Seventies: Portrait Of A Decade (1980)
- The Games War: A Moscow Journal (1981)
- The Mad Officials: How The Bureaucrats Are Strangling Britain (with Richard North, 1994)
- The Castle of Lies: Why Britain Must get Out of Europe (with Richard North, 1996)
- A Looking-Glass Tragedy. The Controversy Over The Repatriations From Austria in 1945, London, United Kingdom, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, First Edition (1997)
- The Great Deception (with Richard North, 2003), London: Continuum Publishing
- The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (2005)
- Scared To Death: From BSE To Global Warming, Why Scares Are Costing Us The Earth (with Richard North, 2007), London: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-8614-2
- Climategate to Cancun: The Real Global Warming Disaster Continues... (with Richard North, 2010), London: Continuum.
- Booker, Christopher (2009). The Real Global Warming Disaster. Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. ISBN 1-4411-1052-6.
- International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004, Routledge, 2003. p63
- "scientific evidence to support [the] belief that inhaling other people's smoke causes cancer simply does not exist" – Christopher Booker, 1 July 2007, Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Booker's notebook: All done with passive smoke and mirrors
- Booker, Christopher (15 October 2006). "Christopher Booker's Notebook". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- Adam Mars-Jones "Terminator 2 Good, The Odyssey Bad", The Observer, 21 November 2004, retrieved 1 September 2011.
- "The Seven Basic Plots". Bloomsbury. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Scruton, Roger (February 2005). "Wagner: moralist or monster?". The New Criterion. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- James Delingpole (28 October 2009). "You Know It Makes Sense". The Spectator. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- there is "no proof that BSE causes CJD in humans"Ministers hushed up report on the dangers of sheep dip
- Monbiot, George (23 September 2008). "The Guardian". London. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- Monbiot, George (3 February 2009). "Booker's work of clanger-dropping fiction". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- "The Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London). 13 January 2002. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- Hodgson JT, Darnton A (December 2000). "The quantitative risks of mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to asbestos exposure". Ann Occup Hyg 44 (8): 565–601. doi:10.1093/annhyg/44.8.565. PMID 11108782.
At exposure levels seen in occupational cohorts it is concluded that the exposure specific risk of mesothelioma from the three principal commercial asbestos types is broadly in the ratio 1:100:500 for chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite respectively. For lung cancer the conclusions are less clear cut. ... The risk differential between chrysotile and the two amphibole fibres for lung cancer is thus between 1:10 and 1:50.
- Structurally, asbestos or Mg3(Si2O5)(OH)4 consists of linear fibres, while talc or Mg3Si4O10(OH)2 consists of planar sheets. Both minerals are hydrated magnesium silicates, and are similar but not identical in terms of chemical composition. Their microstructure differs significantly.
- Walker, Timothy (17 February 2002). "Booker's claims are irresponsible". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- "HSE Press Office: Putting the record straight". Health and Safety Executive. 15 December 2005.
- Booker, Christopher (11 December 2005). "The Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- "The Sunday Telegraph article: "Great asbestos scam faces a revenue loss of £½bn a year"
Geoffrey Podger, HSE's Chief Executive, responds". Health and Safety Executive. 6 August 2006.
- "Christopher Booker's notebook". The Daily Telegraph (London). 6 August 2006. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- Christopher Booker (25 May 2008). "Farmers face £6bn bill for asbestos clean-up". Telegraph.co.uk.
- "Telegraph article: "Farmers face £6 bn bill for asbestos clean up"
Geoffrey Podger, HSE's Chief Executive, responds". Health and Safety Executive. 25 May 2008.
- Monbiot, George (23 September 2008). "The patron saint of charlatans is again spreading dangerous misinformation". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- Fox, Geoff (30 August 2005). "Asbestos expert lied about his qualifications". The Yorkshire Evening Post (York). Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- Christopher Booker (4 April 2010). "Climate Change Act has the biggest ever bill". The Sunday Telegraph (London). Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- Monbiot, George (24 February 2012). "Anything to declare, Mr Booker? We need transparency about Heartland". Environment: George Monbiot's Blog (London: The Guardian).
- Booker 2009, p. 342
- Philip Ball (15 November 2009). "The Real Global Warming Disaster by Christopher Booker". The Observer (London). Retrieved 9 January 2014.
- Christopher Booker and Richard North "Questions over business deals of UN climate change guru Dr Rajendra Pachauri", The Sunday Telegraph, 20 December 2009 Archived 24 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine
- Dr Pachauri – Apology, Daily Telegraph, 21 August 2010
- George Monbiot "Rajendra Pachauri innocent of financial misdealings but smears will continue", The Guardian, 26 August 2010
- The article was titled "Questions over business deals of UN climate change guru Dr Rajendra Pachauri." According to George Monbiot (26 August 2010), "The subtitle alleged that Pachauri has been "making a fortune from his links with 'carbon trading' companies". The article maintained that the money made by Pachauri while working for other organisations "must run into millions of dollars".
- Christopher Booker and Richard North "The curious case of the expanding environmental group with falling income", Sunday Telegraph, 17 January 2010
- "Daily Telegraph apologises to Pachauri", Hindustan Times, 21 August 2010
- "Christopher Booker's notebook". The Daily Telegraph (London). 7 August 2005. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- Christopher Booker (17 July 2010). "It's time to bring family law to book". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- Booker, Christopher (23 April 2011). "The judge has forbidden anyone to tell me what he wanted me to hear". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- "L (A Child: Media Reporting), Re  EWHC B8 (Fam) (18 April 2011)".
- Booker, Christopher (27 August 2011). "Judge Wall, the secrecy rules, and another stinging attack". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Booker, Christopher (4 May 2013). "A mother sent to prison on evidence she cannot see". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Haigh  EWHC B16 (Fam), 22 August 2011 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2011/B16.html
- "Daughter of racehorse trainer at centre of custody battle was coached to claim her father had sexually abused her", Daily Mail, 23 August 2011 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2028908/Vicky-Haigh-coached-daughter-claim-father-paedophile-custody-battle.html
|Editor of Private Eye