‘A philanderer obsessed with his wife’, Simon Hoggart said about Alan Clarke. It’s true that, for all his promiscuity, Clarke really did love Jane, his long-suffering wife. This is abundantly clear in his diaries and forms a constant theme in this biography by Ion Trewin who, as Clarke’s publisher of the diaries during his lifetime, had a unique insight into the man and his morals.
It’s a compelling read, about a compelling man. It’s good too to get an overall view of someone who was many things at once: upper class snob, Etonian, rich as hell, historian, Conservative MP and cabinet minister, wit, diarist… and serial womaniser. It’s often said he rivals Samuel Pepys as a diarist. In many ways he is far better.
I’m trying to resist the temptation to indulge is quoting from his many bon mots but can’t restrain myself from giving this one: Up before the local Conservative party activists and trying to get selection as the parliamentary candidate he was asked if he had skeletons in his past. ‘I’ve got whole cupboards of them’, he replied, gaining a huge laugh and, eventually, the nomination. And as regards his (well earned) notoriety as a man who had an affair with a woman AND ALSO her daughters, far from this being being a problem with the party faithful by alienating women and angering men (as had been feared) — ‘the exact opposite happened. It amused women and impressed men no end’ his biographer reports.
Anyone who has read the diaries will relish reading the wit again, but a biography is not a diary and we are allowed to see the final, slow demise of Alan Clarke into terminal illness. It’s well handled by Ion Trewin but nothing could disguise the dreadfulness of it all. Clarke really does merit the old cliche: We will never look upon his like again.