Johnson and Maclean
From Sir Charles Maclean of Dunconnel Sir: Paul Johnson doesn't seem to have done his homework before proposing my father Fitzroy Maclean as the missing villain in Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy (And another thing, 13 January). He should read Eastern Approaches, the book in which my father describes his experiences as a young diplomat in Moscow at the height of the Stalinist purges, as a wartime combatant in the Western Desert with David Stirling's fledgling SAS, and, subsequently, as the leader of this country's military mission to Tito and the partisans in enemy-occupied Yugoslavia. Johnson labels the book 'suggestive', insinuating that my father had communist sympathies. Anyone familiar with Eastern Approaches, who knew my father, or read any of his later writings on Soviet or Balkan affairs, will dismiss such a notion as the windy ravings of an ideologue.
Johnson is equally wide of the mark with his speculation that Evelyn Waugh somehow lacked the nerve to accuse Maclean in fiction of 'handing over' Yugoslavia to the communists. My father, who admired Waugh as a writer, found him an amusing companion and an extremely brave, if incompetent, soldier. He also considered him politically naive and, as a junior officer attached to his mission, a liability. Waugh disliked my father on principle, and possibly resented him all the more for having suppressed a treasonable document which Waugh had penned while on active service, sympathetic to Ante Pavelic's Catholic fascist regime in Croatia. An enthusiastic convert to Rome and a towering snob, romantically in thrall to the idea of great Catholic families, Waugh may have been misguided at times, but he was utterly fearless with pen as well as sword. If he'd wanted to depict my father as an arch-villain, he would certainly have done so. I suspect that Johnson's craven assertion that 'there will always be a question-mark over Fitzroy Maclean' would have struck him as pretty feeble mischief.
Johnson gets a lot else wrong. He parades his ignorance of history and Highland families with blimpish insouciance. My uncle, the late Lord Lovat — MacShimi is the proper Gaelic appellation for the chief of the Fraser clan, not 'the Shim? — was neither wearing a kilt on D-Day, nor carrying only his `Highlander's staff', whatever that may be. Nor was he attended by his 'personal piper'. The facts are available in Lovat's well-written memoir, March Past, evidently not known to Johnson. Shimi Lovat was all too tolerant of buffoons and sycophants, but seriously doubt if the 'I am Trimmer' conversation Johnson claims he had with him actually took place. It has the fossilised syntax of an anecdote that others have been telling for nearly half a century. As for describing my father, a Highland chieftain of ancient lineage, as 'Anglo-Scottish', this is a gratuitous insult best answered by the Glasgow kiss with which I shall greet your correspondent next time he shows his florid mug north of the border.
The pretext for Johnson's ramblings on Waugh and the war was his own absurdly pompous refusal to watch the recent, more than competent, televised adaptation of Sword of Honour. My father, when advanced in years, loved watching television. He would have recommended it to Paul Johnson as a harmless pastime, and a jolly good way of staying in touch with what's going on in the world when reading and writing and so on become a bit of an effort.