Spectator letters: PPE, Biblical bishops and Pamela Hansford Johnson

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

Degrees of ability

Sir: Nick Cohen has written an amusing piece on PPE (‘Crash course’, 27 September), marred by lazy journalism. I never said that Cameron was ‘my ablest pupil’, an impossible judgment to make. What I said was that he was ‘one of my ablest pupils’. He was also, incidentally, one of the nicest. And I cannot help feeling that a degree which produced two Nobel prize winners in economics — Hicks and Meade — and three of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century — Isaiah Berlin, Strawson and Dummett — must have a bit more to be said for it than Nick Cohen and other journalists suggest.
Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, King’s College, London

How Balfour chillaxed

Sir: Adrian Wooldridge (‘The Cameron way’, 27 September) refers to one of Arthur Balfour’s hobbies — golf — but omits two others that were no less important to him: tennis (he played on Wimbledon’s Centre Court in his sixties) and being spanked by his mistress, Lady Elcho. He was the greatest prime-ministerial exponent of ‘chillaxing’ in British history.
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

Spectator memories

Sir: I was much amused by Mark Amory’s account of his early days at The Spectator (Diary, 20 September). It brought to mind my time working for one of his predecessors, Maurice Cowling, in the ‘bad patch’ you referred to. I was at The Spectator (then at 99 Gower Street) for a year between school and university, when George Gale was editor, and Maurice deigned to visit Bloomsbury from his base at Peterhouse, Cambridge, once or twice a week to supervise the book reviews. The rest of the week I would liaise with him by telephone, presumably interrupting his tutorials as I briefed him on the books that had arrived for review. In late summer 1971 I took two weeks’ holiday, and was then due to return to Gower Street for a week or two before going up to Oxford for my first year.

On my return from holiday, I was amazed to find there had been an editorial tsunami. George Gale was also on holiday, and his deputy, Michael Wynn Jones, had in his absence sanctioned the publication of an article by Tony Palmer of which the opening sentence ran: ‘Has Princess Anne had sex?’ It caused a great outcry from readers (we were such tender flowers then) and Maurice Cowling resigned in protest. His deputy (also the film critic) was Christopher Hudson, but he too was on holiday. So I returned from my break to find that, as a humble not-yet-undergraduate, I was in charge of the book reviews — and thus I was, shortly after my 19th birthday, literary editor of The Spectator for two weeks, commissioning reviews and subbing others.
John Bridcut
Liss, Hampshire

A basis for communion

Sir: Isabel Hardman’s article on conservative Anglicans (‘Anglican disunion’, 20 September) claims that the Bible does not mention bishops. This is not the case. Bishops (episcopoi from which we get episcopa, episcopate etc) are explicitly mentioned in a number of places along with presbyters (or priests) and deacons. What is more, the qualifications needed for being a bishop are also to be found in the Bible.

As to the rest of her article, Anglicanism does, indeed, seek to be comprehensive but, as John Stott used to say, it seeks principled comprehensiveness rather than a ‘cobbled together’ one which Hardman seems to prefer. Such principled comprehensiveness is squarely based on the classical Anglican formularies: the supremacy of Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles of Religion and the Ordinal. It is not unreasonable to insist on these as a basis for an otherwise diverse communion.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
London W1

My mother’s life

Sir: Hilary Spurling’s vituperative article (Books, 20 September), claiming to be a review of Wendy Pollard’s biography of my mother, Pamela Hansford Johnson, was mainly an expression of the writer’s loathing of my stepfather, C.P. Snow.

Ms Spurling writes of an ‘amphetamine addiction’ without mentioning that my mother suffered badly from migraines and chronic depression for much of her life. She took prescription drugs for these conditions on the advice of a series of family doctors, commonplace practice at that time.

There was nothing ‘mysterious’ about my mother’s marriage to C.P. Snow, apart from his extramarital affairs. He may have been, in Ms Spurling’s view, ‘pop-eyed and lumbering’ (not a description that his family would have recognised) but women were queuing up to marry him. If my mother supported Snow in his aspirations, it was because, even before they met, she greatly admired his writing, and she adored him throughout their marriage, whether or not this might be thought to be misguided.

More seriously, the lengthy review omits any reference to my mother’s many literary achievements other than passing references to her novels. Ms Spurling accuses Wendy Pollard of ignoring the effect that the marriage to Snow had on my mother’s literary standing, although the afterword to the biography is devoted to an assessment of this question. My mother should be remembered as Pamela Hansford Johnson, novelist, critic and Proustian scholar, rather than as Lady Snow.
Lindsay Avebury
London SE5

House hunting

Sir: Perhaps the reason the Blairs decided not to buy Winslow Hall (Long Life, 27 September) was that the Boxing Day meet of the Whaddon Chase (now the Bicester Hunt) has, by tradition, been held at the Hall for the last 50 years.
Angus Irvine
Hook Norton, Oxon

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