23 SEPTEMBER 1978, Page 7


By the time you read this, the Spectator will have celebrated its 150th anniversary by giving a ball at the Lyceum Theatre in London. I am not sure that 'ball' is exactly the right word, for it will merely have been an oPportunity for as many friends of the paper as possible to meet, drink, dance and generally rejoice in the mysterious fact that the Spectator is still coming out every week after 150 years. But although our party no doubt lacks the elegance associated in people's minds with the word 'ball' (a gathering formed largely of journalists and politicians IS not on the whole likely to appear very elegant), a 'ball' is how the Fleet Street gossip columnists have chosen to describe it and I have no wish to disown this harmless description. But it is both extraordinary and illustrative of the present state of the country how one or two people —close friends of the Spectator at that — felt uneasy when they learnt of the manner in which we had chosen to celebrate our anniversary. It seemed to them not only a little indecent (or at least inappropriate) but also profoundly unwise. Such conspicuous expenditure on mere entertainment would certainly damage the Spectator's 'image'. Who knows, it might somehow incur the displeasure of the great apparatus of the State, with consequences for the whole nation of a sinister, unimaginable sort. Then one should think of those great and good men — senior politicians of the Labour Party, perhaps — who would like in normal circumstances to join in our celebrations but would be frightened of being seen at anything so wicked as a 'ball'. They may like glamorous parties, of course, but, with their reputations to consider, they must be sure that their attendance at them is a well-guarded secret. So ran the arguments. There is little evidence, thank God, of much truth in them. But the fact that sensible men have been reduced to thinking in this way at all is disturbing enough.

By chance, the week in which we celebrate our 150th anniversary also sees the 25th birthday of our old monthly contemporary and friend, Encounter. Melvin Lasky, its editor, has weathered some nasty storms in his time. Survival is a triumph in itself, apart from the good stuff which continues to find a home in his pages. Goronwy Rees, alias the magazine's veteran columnist 'R', sadly reflects that of the great European magazines which were founded in the first flush of the Marshall Plan — Der Monat in Germany, Preuves in France, Tempo Presente in Italy — only Encounter carries on, although Der Monat (b. 1948, d. 1971) is to be revived. Curiously enough, the one fact about Encounter which sticks in left-wing minds — that it was at one time indirectly subsidised by the CIA — has had little or no effect on either the circulation or the contributors who continue to span the world and the democratic political spectrum. The anniversary number includes pieces by William Trevor, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Leszek Kolakowski and Gunter Grass, for example, not to mention our own political correspondent, Ferdinand Mount. One of the few good investments the CIA ever made.

The story of the poisoned umbrella would have sounded like a fantastic pre-war thriller of the E. Phillips Oppenheim type, except for the recent revelations about CIA plans and KGB methods. Georgi Markov's obituaries have listed his plays and books and given some idea of his considerable reputation in Bulgaria, but the impact he made since he defected and came to live in Britain also deserves a mention. A friend who only met Markov once describes him as 'one of the few genuinely unforgettable men I have ever met. He came in late to dinner after working at the BBC and, without in any sense putting on a performance, electrified the room. His manner was forceful and intense; his conversation funny, alarming, melancholy. He gave out the feeling that he had been through a great deal and expected to go through more. If he did have a touch of persecution mania, I can well believe that it was because he was being persecuted.'

Clark Clifford, the most eminent, silverhaired, double-breasted and established of all Washington lawyers, is the only surviving protagonist from a fateful meeting in the White House a generation ago. He had come from Missouri with Harry Truman, and was his chief White House counsel. Truman summoned a meeting, whose purpose was mysterious and whose details have rarely been revealed. He knew that Israel was on the point of proclaiming its existence, and he asked two senior men to argue the pros and cons of American recognition. Clifford was to argue the case in favour, and George Marshall, Secretary of State, the case against. Clifford recalls that it was the only occasion on which he saw the General (as Marshall was called) deeply emotional and deeply angry. He was certain that American recognition of Israel would have the most serious political and military consequences. Israel would be an international embarrassment politically, and its need for military aid would be enormous and continuing. Clifford put the official White House view, which was also Truman's own, that America of all countries was cornm itted to liberty, self-determination, human rights etcetera, and Truman brought the meeting to a swift end. Later that week Israel proclaimed independence, and was instantly, on the same day, recognised by America. Thirty years and four months later, who was right? Marshall's reputation has survived, just as his prognosis has been proved correct, and Truman's reputation has survived too, despite the insinuations that he was motivated only by longstanding friendship with Jewish chums back in Missouri. Israel has survived too, but perhaps no one has survived as comfortably as Clark Clifford, who still commands his own fees, to the great envy of younger and less silvery colleagues, •and still operates, as always, behind closed doors.

The spectacle on television of Mr Begin and President Sadat repeatedly hugging each other was not merely unattractive to look at. It once again raised the question of why statesmen choose to behave in this extraordinary manner. The hug, I am sure Mr Desmond Morris would agree, can be interpreted in only one way — as a sign of warm personal affection. But nobody can be fooled by that. Mr Sadat, one feels sure, must by now detest Mr Begin. And it is unlikely that Mr Begin feels much passion for Mr Sadat. Fickleness in personal relations — abuse one day, embraces the next — can only undermine public confidence in the durability of agreements signed. Icy smiles were the most that the occasion demanded.

The success story of the year has been the introduction of the breathalyser in Ireland two months ago. The number of deaths in motor accidents has fallen dramatically. But the reason for this, I am told, is simply that Ireland has changed overnight into a nation of women drivers. In the past, Irish women —to their great fury — have been forbidden to drive by their menfolk. Since the breathalyser, however, their services at the wheel have been in constant demand.

Alexander Chancellor