Tuesday, 10 July 2007


I’ve volunteered to answer five questions from Aphra Behn for the INTERVIEW MEME. Here are her questions, with my answers:

1. Social justice is important to you. When did you first become aware of injustice in the world and what was your response to that?

I already knew in my early ‘teens that I was 100 per cent. Gay, and that this wasn’t just a passing phase. [How did I know? I don’t know - but I did.] At that time, any physical sexual contact between males was a criminal offence, and so if one was to have any fulfilling personal life at all, one felt and had to behave as if one was a resistance fighter in enemy-occupied territory. As we were fighting a war against tyranny, and – we were told - for democracy and personal freedom, this was completely at odds with my sense of justice. [I am a Libran.] I decided, even before I went to University, that if I could I would do something to remedy this wrong. I was fortunate in realising this ambition, and my experience led me on to involvement in several other civil liberties causes.

2. You've a long life of political engagement behind you - which of your enemies or heroes have you had direct dealings with, and were they what you expected?

People are rarely what you expect, though some of them run true to form. I’ve had dealings with several of my heroes. One of them was quite the opposite of what I had imagined. This was Aubrey Jones, who had written a political tract – The Pendulum of Politics – which I greatly admired. When I encountered him as Director of a large business organisation, I found that my idol had feet of clay – he was devious and manipulative. He went on to be a Conservative Minister….

Roy Jenkins, whom I knew as Home Secretary in the 1960s, was one of the most civilized and genuine politicians I’ve known. He was really sincere in his belief in a liberal, free, ‘civilised society’ – a vision which earned him the undying hatred of Mary Whitehouse and her ‘Moral Majority’ friends [of whom it was aptly said that they were neither moral nor a majority].

Although I never met that lady personally, I had some uncomfortably close dealings and controversies with her and found her to be a most unscrupulous and on occasions untruthful debater. She stuck at nothing to smear those she disagreed with as deliberate agents of moral depravity, and refused to consider any point of view other than her own.

A hero I only met once, but shall never forget the powerful impression he made on me, was Lord Brabazon of Tara. A contemporary, friend and cabinet colleague of Winston Churchill, he was one of the most vividly robust people I’ve ever met. A pioneer motorist and aviator, and a keen practitioner of many other sports, he led an adventurous life which he chronicled in his autobiography The Brabazon Story, which is a rattling good read.

3. Looking back, if you could change just one thing about the world political stage during your lifetime, what would it be?

I would have taken the United Kingdom into the inner circle of the European Movement from the very beginning, as Churchill advocated, and ensured that we exercised our full influence in the development of the European Union. The notion that because Americans speak a bastardized form of English, and that since we have some interests in common with them from time to time, they are in some way less foreign than other countries and we have an indissoluble ‘special relationship’ with them, strikes me as complete bunkum. This fallacy has led to the foreign policy disasters of the Blair years.

4. If you were to reform education in the UK how would you do so - more specifically (if you choose) if you were to design a curriculum for modern school children, what would it include?

There are only three things every child should be taught. First, that other people are as real as you are [Shylock: [I am a Jew but] “if you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” Second, never do to anyone else what you would not willingly have done to you. And thirdly, that the most important thing in life is to be kind.

These are, in my view, the root principles of moral education. All else depends on the capability of the teacher and the capacity and willingness of the pupil to learn.

Montaigne observes – sagely, as always – that parents should pay much closer attention than they usually do to their small childrens’ infant behaviour and play patterns. Innate tendencies to cruelty and dishonesty come out early in the tormenting of animals or cheating at pin games – the infant who cheats will, unless checked, grow up into the professional scam merchant. Yet many parents tacitly endorse such conduct by saying “Isn’t she cute?”

If I were designing a national curriculum, I would ensure that dubious subjects such as creationism were taught - if at all - as examples of controversial opinions which need to be weighed against alternatives. The object of education should be to teach children to think for themselves.

But it’s an uphill struggle. I shall never forget overhearing someone saying “I was at the Department of Education the other day, and a senior official said to me ‘We don’t WANT too many highly intelligent people in this country, do we? They cause too much trouble!'” Oh, dear……..

5. Talleyrand - libertarian or opportunist? (Or any poacher- turned-gamekeeper of your choice).

How clever of you to guess that Talleyrand is one of the characters in history I would most like to meet! I first encountered him as a child in Rudyard Kipling’s Rewards and Fairies stories “Brother Square-Toes” and “A Priest in Spite of Himself”. The more I’ve read about him, the more I admire him. Far from being the self-interested turncoat he has been depicted as by some French historians, he was – while naturally concerned about self-preservation – utterly consistent in his pursuit of peace, moderation and civil liberty both at home and in foreign policy. An Anglophile, he believed that the key to France’s prosperity and a peaceful Europe lay in Anglo-French friendship. His latest biographer – David Lawday – calls his book Napoleon’s Master, and Talleyrand certainly stood up to and ultimately outmanoeuvred the Emperor and then went on to curb the stupider excesses of the Bourbon ‘Ultras’ during the Restoration.

Apart from his political wisdom, he was a witty, cultivated and often charming survivor of the Ancien Regime. He even won over the prudish Fanny Burney! I certainly wish Hendrik Van Loon had included him as a dinner guest in his fascinating Lives.


  1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
  2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
  3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
  5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


sleepless in sirmione said...

Interesting, as always.
And informative too.
I had always thought Fanny Burney was a symptom of thrush.
Live and learn.

zola a social thing said...

Jesus wept : Anticant at confessional.

BTW : The word GAY, when Antispank was young, had totally different meanings. Did it not? Remember the Gay Science?

Anonymous said...

That Zola is trying to pull Anticants peg again we see.

lavenderblue said...

>goes off to googlescrooglewikiwotsit everything.........>

Emmett said...

HULLO, Hullo...is everyone gay & cheerful, hmmm...?

I Enjoy reading you've had dealings with Roy Jenkins as I do enjoy his biographies no end, of Gladstone and old Churchill -- next on list for me will be his SB-book, Wook!

trousers said...

A very good read, and I like your answer about Europe (since I agree).

So is anyone going to take up the offer of being interviewed by anticant? I'm mulling it over.

Merkin said...

trousers, you internet floozie.

anticant said...

I was rather disappointed by Roy Jenkins' "Churchill" - it could have done with tighter editing. I enjoyed some of his earlier books more - "Asquith" and "Mr Balfour's Poodle".

Anonymous said...

Tighter editing for Trousers here please before the Merk goes spare.

No leaks please.

ben trovato said...

In his raunchier days, Anticant used to like 'em tight and bulging.

the burrow beadle said...

No groping in the Burrow.

By Order

anticant said...

If Ben Trovato posts any more such disrespectful comments about the sober and sedate Judge Anticant, his posting rights will be summarily withdrawn.

trousers said...

I'm still mulling it over....is there a time limit?

Ms Melancholy said...

Oh go on, anticant, interview me! (Nothing too hard, mind....)

Ms Melancholy said...

PS - a friend of mine is a good friend of Roy Jenkins. We spent the evening with her on the night of the wonderful election when Tory after Tory was trounced. Her mobile rang just after Portillo's demise. " Yes, fantastic..... yes, we laughed too... yes, we have opened the champagne....." It was Roy Jenkins, celebrating along with the rest of us. Apparently a wonderful man.

anticant said...

Great, Ms M - I'll cook something nice up for you tomorrow.

No time limit, Trousers - don't you trust me?

trousers said...

I merely wish to seek clarification anticant, not to cast aspersions ;-)

trousers said...

Go on then, interview me!

Aphra Behn said...

I'm sorry to have ignored your answers for so long, anticant. I've been up to my whatsit in cardboard boxes.

I'm feeling very pleased to have elicited such fascinating answers: "‘We don’t WANT too many highly intelligent people in this country, do we? They cause too much trouble!'” Yeouch. More and more this year, I fear that I should be waking up and smelling the Cultural Revolution.

I think its the fact that you know your way so well around the 18th Century which suggested that you'd have an opinion or several on Talleyrand. I read a biography of his in the mid-80s, presumably the one by Duff Cooper, (an interesting chap in himself), and was facinated, and then went back to the Kipling afterwards to check what he had to say. I do remember realising that I hadn't had to think that hard since leaving university. I've just ordered the Lawday from an amazon reseller - you are an expensive acquaintance to have, anticant, even if you are educative. ;-)

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I was pleased and honoured to be allowed to be that nosy.