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Memoirs Hardcover – 7 Jul 2011
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‘You couldn’t make it up; or, at least if you tried to, not half as entertainingly’ Guardian
‘What elevates Rees-Moog’s book above the horde is his candour and self-knowledge’ Mail on Sunday
‘The finely written record of an honourable public career’ New Statesman
‘It is only on reading this comprehensive memoir that one becomes aware of how close he was to successive prime ministers and the decision-making process in some of the crises of public life in recent decades’ Country Life
‘Rees-Mogg has a modest, self-deprecatory demeanour that comes through in his Memoirs . . . This book does him credit’ The Times
About the Author
Educated at Charterhouse and Balliol College, Oxford, William Rees-Mogg joined the Financial Times in 1952, becoming chief leader writer and assistant editor. He then moved to The Times, eventually becoming its editor, and remaining there for fourteen years. An accepted figure of the establishment, he served as vice-chairman of the BBC, chairman of the Arts Council and head of the Broadcasting Standards Council. He died in 2012, aged 84.
Top customer reviews
Rees-Mogg was born into the middle classes in 1928. He became a fourth generation Carthusian, only later learning that he had blackballed at Eton on account of the Catholicism that he inherited from his Irish American mother. He went up to Balliol in the shadow of the war, served a term as president of the Union and put in his national service in the RAF. He joined the FT, later moved to the Sunday Times and then The Times where he was editor from 1967 to 1981. During this period he not only reported on events but also participated in them: he stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative in the Chester-Le-Street by-election in 1956, acted as a go-between for Sadat and Golda Meir, carried messages to Pompidou and played a meaningful role in Alec Douglas-Home's succession.
After retiring from The Times, Rees-Mogg embarked on a career as a "multiple". He was elevated to the Lords in 1988, served as Vice Chairman of the BBC (an institution that he dislikes as much as Balliol), Chairman of the Arts Council and non-executive director of GEC, among other roles. He started up a niche publishing company and today still writes columns for The Mail On Sunday and The Times.
Rees-Mogg describes himself as a "John Locke Tory" rather than a "Daily Telegraph Tory" and says that, while he remains a practicing Catholic, he is possessed of a soul that is "rather inclined to protestant liberalism." He writes exactly as this self-description would suggest. His aphorisms are wise but much tamer than those of his near contemporary, Paul Johnson. He notes for example, that "many lawyers make indifferent politicians, too glib at making arguments, " and (while referring to Jimmy Goldsmith) that "one can never be precise about other people's wealth." His most famous zinger - "George Brown is a better man drunk than the prime minister (Wilson) is sober" was issued over forty years ago and would have been suppressed had a colleague, Harry Evans perhaps, not persuaded him to publish it.
His accounts of the famous people whom he has known are mostly bland, though I did learn something new in his story of an evening spent with Wilson and a brandy bottle at Chequers and in his description of Lord Weinstock's management style - here he invents a quantitative yardstick by which he modestly determines that he is only 1 % as effective a manager as Weinstock. Throughout his career, he took contrarian views of embattled individuals as in his famous "butterfly on a wheel" defence of Mick Jagger during his prosecution for possession, or his support for President Nixon during Watergate. In this volume, written before the hacking scandal broke out, he praises Rupert Murdoch whom he judges to be "an excellent proprietor for The Times and...also... for Fleet Street." His observation that Murdoch reinvigorated and greatly improved British journalism is worth keeping in perspective as the lynch mob circles.
Overall, I enjoyed this classy memoir and came away with considerable respect and affection for its author. Lord Rees-Mogg is from a class and a generation that was born to lead and to serve. There are few of his ilk left and that in itself is reason to read his book.
It is boring for the first 40 or so pages but then becomes very interesting.
He belonged to the eurosceptic wing of British politics (in case you are wondering).
He lived in interesting times and was,in some ways,in the thick of it.
Nothing new in the book but that does not make it a bad book.
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