SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024



Farewell (at last) Suella, soon to be leader of the Old Blighty Patriotic Front

As our wise and esteemed Editor told me this morning ‘Well, you had to be right sooner or later!’ He was referring of course to my long ago prediction that Suella Braverman would be sacked. To which I say: About bloody time.


My dislike of Braverman isn’t just based on her naked ambition to lead her party, though if she does it will probably be a husk of the Conservative party we were brought up to respect and vote for. If, or probably when, the Tories are in opposition after the general election, it might well be an unrepresentative rump of right wingers led by their heroine and fancied by the Old Blighty Patriotic Front.


Her faults are her language, designed to stir trouble, and the fact that she seems to possess that worst of all character flaws, lack of self-awareness. She is clearly unaware that she has failed to deliver on her promises. Stop the boats (which the huge majority of voters of all persuasions want)? Fail. Rwanda? Fail at least so far and I understand Wednesday’s decision by the Supreme Court will probably put the final nail in the coffin of that one. Rough sleepers? Fail. And here we have the real issue which I believe led to her removal.


Braverman’s comments about ‘hate marches’ last week were stupid, nasty and were exacerbated when she deliberately defied Downing Street by refusing to amend the text of her article for The Times. And her claim that they echoed marches in Northern Ireland was simply ignorant. When it came to Saturday the real hate came from tattooed, bare-chested thugs from the mindless far right, the so-called English Defence League and a bunch of idiots calling themselves, ironically, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance. They tried to get to the Cenotaph, fought with police and then invaded Chinatown. Of the arrests that day the vast majority were of these dangerous, mostly pissed buffoons and just a handful were from the largely peaceful march supporting a ceasefire in the Middle East.


But it was Braverman’s previous and vile pronouncement that homeless people living in tents on our streets (many of whom are ex-Service men and women) had made a ‘lifestyle choice’ that did for her. Did she really think that or was it another example of her ill-thought out need to shock.


Anyway, she’s out and doubtless her plotting will now go into overdrive. Strange because her behaviour is at odds with what people tell me: That personally she is warm and caring, that she always remembers to ask about one’s family and a contemporary at Cambridge says she can be fun. But if Sunak wondered if he was right to get rid of her, confirmation came from the ludicrous Rees-Mogg who said the prime minister was wrong.


So my prediction that she would be sacked was correct, it just came long after I first made it. What nobody foresaw was the return of David Cameron. The appointment was apparently brokered by William Hague and a solid Tory friend rang me to say the news wasn’t the sublime to the ridiculous, it was the ridiculous to the ridiculous!


I’m not so sure. But there is a problem which won’t go away and which Labour has already pounced upon: his part in the Greensill lobbying scandal. Holders of high office usually come in clean and are later found wanting but Cameron’s appointment to the Foreign Office seems to have omitted the first part of that equation. He’s gone straight to the Lords so maybe Mad Nad could yet get a job back in government and, as she is no longer an MP, would have to be given the peerage she so craved. No, maybe not...


My old chum and fellow columnist Tenerife Tel writes elsewhere here of Lord Beaverbrook. The Beaver features widely in my book Toto and Coco:  Spies, Seduction and the Fight for Survival and as part of my research I trawled through volumes on the great (but deeply flawed) man and rifled through his personal papers in the House of Lords library. (If you include his political papers the boxes laid end-to-end would stretch for a third of a mile. NMPKT).


Terry wonders what it would have been like to have been night editor and have the Beaver call you. I can tell him. His first words would have been ‘Who’s in charge of the clattering train?’ And if you were that outstanding editor Arthur Christiansen you would often be rung very early in the morning  for a bollocking, sometimes praise and always advice. But in the background you would often hear giggling, for Beaverbrook liked to make his phone calls beside whomever he had slept with that night. He was showing the poor girl just how powerful he was.


There was no shortage of lovers which goes to show that power and a vast fortune make up for the lack of George Clooney looks. Here’s some of them in no particular order: Toto Koopman, beautiful bisexual model turned Allied spy and the heroine of my book; the uber-promiscuous Countess Mountbatten; his long time mistress, the society beauty Jean Norton, wife of film producer Lord Grantley; Rebecca West; ballerina Lily Ernst and mad, bad Hollywood star and cocaine aficionado Tallulah Bankhead. And that’s just a few of them!


The Beaver lost Toto after a few months when she first met his son Max and he was furious to the point of cutting off his boy. Toto and Max fell in love and were together for five years until her activities with the Italian Resistance took her away and eventually to Ravensbruck concentration camp.


Sadly for the Express, the Beaver and Max were eventually reunited. I say sadly because had they not been, Sir Max Aitken might never have been the disastrous, disinterested chairman he became. Another What If.


When Sir Walter Raleigh wrote ‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe, the sun in Heaven and the Thames on earth. ’Were the old boy alive today he would be tempted to add two words towards the end of his sentence. At Night.


Last week we were at the Bridge Theatre for Nicholas Hytner’s stunning production of Guys and Dolls. It has to be the second greatest show in town, inventive, utterly stylish with the acting, singing, dancing mesmerising. I urge you to see and you will thanks me if you do. So why do I say the second greatest show in town?


Easy, it’s because walking back to London Bridge from the theatre on the south bank of the Thames at Tower Bridge the vista of the City, the Tower of London, the dome of St Paul’s and Tower Bridge itself is like a glittering tour through 1,000 years of architecture. That surely is the greatest show, an unmatched spectacle you could never tire of.


Another story on the remarkable life of our late chum John Roberts. In the 1970s John served as an ADC to James Mancham, prime minister of the Seychelles. On the night that Princess Margaret and her husband Tony Snowdon were visiting the island and a big party was taking place at Government House, a tropical storm blew all fuses and the place was in darkness.


Snowdon, keen to show off his practical side, grabbed a toolbox and took off to the roof. And because of the lashing rain he stripped down to his boxers. Roberts quite rightly could not ignore the terrific story unfolding before him. As soon as phone lines were restored he was on to Reuters who duly sent the story round the world.


Mancham, whom we got to know after his marriage to the fragrant Kate Olsen, formerly of this parish, was not bothered by his man’s opportunity but the Governor General Sir Bruce Greatbatch certainly was. John and Sylvia were soon on the way home to Sussex.

14 November 2023