THERE is, I believe, an interesting thesis to be written on why Catholicism produces such excellent and provocative journalists. At present, without giving the question too much thought, I can immediately think of Peregrine Worsthorne, Hugo Young, William ReesMogg, Auberon Waugh, Mary Kenny and Paul Johnson.
Not so long ago Catholicism could also claim the likes of Douglas Woodruff (whose faith was a handicap to his editing the Observer), Patrick O'Donovan and Malcolm Muggeridge, although the latter only embraced Rome officially when his writing career was, sadly, almost over. Those of us who have spent a bit of time splashing about in the deep and murky waters of Fleet Street are also aware of the large number of Catholics who hold influential editorial back-room jobs. The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs even have a Catholic proprietor in Canadian Conrad Black.
I suppose the most famous,
certainly the most controversial, of our present pundits, is the historian Paul Johnson who produces books and newspaper columns with the apparent facility that other men produce errors. His latest work The Birth of the Modern has just been published.
For me, Johnson shares with Muggeridge that magnetic quality of readability: if I see his by-line I read him at once.
Johnson is now, of course, the scourge of the militant Left and the crasser forms of Labour and Liberal progressive cant: the custodian of Rightwing values. I share some of his sentiments but I have always liked his easy style, the erudition lightly worn, the elegant pugnacity and the general cut of his intellectual jib.
This was particularly the case when he was the slightly snobbish and patronising hammer of Tory policy and thinking during his editorship from 1965 to 1970 of the Leftwing New Statesman.
Those were the days when the Spectator was a poor second-best to the Statesman and when civilised people of all political persuasions and religious beliefs read it for its well-expressed, if sometimes batty, views. Paul Johnson could edit as well as he could write. He was also a loyal servant of the Catholic Herald and despite his heavy editing burdens would contribute to its pages when asked. The fees he received were hardly grandiose.
In fact I always feel that I have a tenuous link with Paul Johnson because when he edited the Statesman I edited the Catholic Herald and we shared the same printers on the same day at High Wycombe.
So far as I remember, proper precedence ruled. The more papal Herald went to press before the Pauline Statesman so that our more pristine pages were not soiled by the more worldly and more liberally permissive journal. Happy days.
IAN Botham, in his younger days, was a supreme cricketer, capable of winning a Test
match off his own bat or ball. Today he is not the cricketer that he was, but he is still pretty good. Whether he is worth a Test place on the coming tour next year of New Zealand and the World Cup tournament in Australia is open to question.
Yet the Test selectors are allowing him to join the New Zealand tour much later than the other players so that he will not lose a considerable amount of money in pantomime appearances and the television programme, A Question of Sport. The selectors are wrong and have devalued the currency of a Test place.
Apologists for their action point out that many years ago a similar dispensation was granted to Ted Dexter, the present boss of the selectors.
There is, however, a big difference. Dexter at that time was a cricketer at the peak of his power and he was given the extra time off in England to fight en election as a Tory candidate against Jim Callaghan.
Elections do not come round every year like pantos. Dexter's chances of winning were negligible and his electoral adventure could be viewed at least as publicspirited.
Financial gain was not the name of his game. I can see nothing public spirited about Botham's lucrative panto exercise.