21 NOVEMBER 1992, Page 53

A linguist, a stylist, but words failed him

Richard Lamb

FITZROY MACLEAN by Frank McLynn John Murray, £25, pp. 418 fascinating history comes out of this pen- etrating biography of the intelligent and dashing Fitzroy Maclean, now 81. Maclean was outstanding at classics at Eton; he even outshone Freddie Ayer, often looked on as the best intellect of his generation. At Cambridge Maclean got a first in the Classics tripos, and after toying with an academic career opted for the Diplomatic Service; McLynn claims that in the entrance examination he scored the highest marks ever recorded, helped by his lan- guages acquired through living with his parents, first in Montreux and then in Florence.

Maclean's great achievement is his auto- biographical book in 1949, Eastern Approaches, which deservedly was hailed as a classic and sold over one million copies. Although his other books have been well received, none has had the same acclaim. He writes beautiful English, and his account of life at the Paris embassy in the mid-Thirties under the hospitable Sir George Clerk is a unique vignette of that sad era when Baldwin and Chamberlain as Prime Ministers, and Simon, Hoare, Eden and Halifax as Foreign Secretaries, were doing everything they could to appease Hitler. McLynn quotes one passage from Eastern Approaches in which one can almost see Samuel Hoare scurrying round to Laval at the Quai d'Orsai to sell the League of Nations down the river in a hurry to start his winter sports holiday (not realising that Laval was in Mussolini's pay and had a direct line to him in Rome on his desk): . . . Sir Samuel Hoare, always so neat and tidy, coming to see Monsieur Laval, intelli- gent, olive-skinned and leering with his dis- coloured white tie.

In the same paragraph Mr and Mrs Bald- win feature also in a rush — this time to get to Aix les Bains — with Stanley com- pletely uninterested in Clerk's dire warn- ings about the pit into which Europe was fast descending.

After delirious years in Paris Maclean opted for Moscow; he had no love of communism and had eschewed the charms of Philby and Blunt at Cambridge. He just wanted to travel and learn Russian. There his friend was the charming Hans von Her- warth, an anti-Nazi at the German embassy, who risked his life by leaking to Fitzroy that the Russians intended to do a deal with Hitler. This was reported to London, but the blinkered Foreign Office ignored it, together with other well- informed messages to the same effect.

McLynn stresses that Maclean was a poor speaker in the Commons. It is rare that anyone so talented with the written word fails with the spoken. Hilaire Belloc comes to mind; he was brilliant on paper and hopeless in Parliament. Probably Maclean was not really interested in poli- tics. He loved his constituents, but the cut and thrust of political in-fighting left him cold. Good political speeches depend on emotive phrases and searching for them perhaps was too superficial for him.

Maclean, however, was involved in politi- cal controversy as a leading member of the Tory group of MPs who opposed British withdrawal from Egypt. With candour McLynn exposes how Maclean was accused of pandering to Churchill when he `aposta- `I can remember when you could buy a house for f100,000 and not have any change left at all.' sised' from the Suez Group, and was soon rewarded with the post of Under-Secretary of State for War, in which role he was a strong supporter of Eden's war against Egypt. Once Eden had fallen, Macmillan had no use for Maclean, and his comment (quoted in the book) sums him up neatly:

I was sorry to lose Fitzroy Maclean but he is really so hopeless in the House that he is a passenger . . a great pity because he is so able.

In July The Spectator ran a well argued controversy between Maclean and Noel Malcolm over whether Maclean deceived Churchill into believing Tito was killing more Germans than Mihailovic. McLynn, as befits an official biographer, takes Maclean's side, but here the book is disappointing because it adds nothing to Maclean's arguments.

McLynn ignores the reports from British officers with Mihailovic which the late Michael Lees uncovered in the Public Records Office. These are cast-iron evidence that up to the time of his betrayal by the British Mihailovic had done more fighting against the Germans and was a more useful ally than Tito.

McLynn also ignores the evidence that James Klugman, a well-known communist in the SOE office in Cairo, delayed de- coding reports of Mihailovic's activities in order to deceive both Maclean and William Deakin and eventually Churchill himself. Denis Healey, a friend of Klugman's, in his autobiography writes that Klugman in Cairo was acting as 'an agent of the Com- intern'. The captured Mussolini documents in the Foreign Office library also contain irrefutable evidence of Mihailovic's troops fighting hard against the Fascist Republi- can Army after the Italian armistice of September 1943. Churchill's honeymoon with Tito was short. He had only become enthusiastic for him because he wanted Tito's help for an amphibious landing in Istria against 'the soft underbelly of the Axis,' and was furi- ous when Tito tried to prevent British troops landing further south in Yugoslavia. One of Maclean's most dubious actions was to back Tito over this; without producing supporting arguments McLynn takes Maclean's and Tito's side against Churchill in this episode.

It is little known that in 1946 the Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, put Maclean in charge of a mission to vet war criminals amongst the remnants of Mihailovic's Royal Yugoslav Army; they, with the Russians and Ustase who had fought on the German side, were being held by the British in camps in Italy. This book makes it clear that with great humanity Maclean wisely secured the freedom of almost all. In this work Michael Lees, who in his last years was Maclean's fiercest critic, co- operated with Maclean happily and successfully, although they had been on opposing sides in the internecine Yugoslav fighting.