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SUNDAY 14 APRIL 2024

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Mountbatten was no hero but his seedy secret files remain under lock and key













Most people of my generation were brought up to believe that Lord Mountbatten was a great man. We just took it for granted because, well, because he was maternal uncle to Prince Philip and he was connected to just about every royal family in Europe.


Then there was his war service. He had been First Sea Lord and with all those medals and yards of gold braid he always looked the part. In truth, we knew no better and in an era when the Establishment ruled supreme we were not expected to question. Of course we do know now thanks to, at first, rumours and later a volume of testimony that in fact Mountbatten was a bisexual paedophile with his pleasure derived from boys as young as eight.


As for a war hero, he wasn’t. But Churchill took to him, and his connections and class and his endless self promotion hid the truth. He was the ultimate schemer, trying desperately to persuade the Royal Family, when it finally cast off its Germanic Saxe-Coburg and Gotha moniker for the very English House of Windsor, to make it Windsor Mountbatten. He lost of course and he never quite got over it. And, despite allies claiming he rejected mad Cecil King’s attempts to bring down Harold Wilson and install him as leader of a ‘government of national salvation’, the truth is he toyed with the idea and only backed out because Queen Elizabeth told him not to be so bloody stupid. It didn’t help that Wilson was one of her favourite prime ministers.


We know much of this because of the indefatigable efforts of my friend, the author and historian Andrew Lownie whose book The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves and it’s extraordinary revelations have come at great personal cost. He has spent £450,000 trying to have the Mountbatten Papers, currently owned by Southampton University, released for public scrutiny and research. The university’s intransigence has been encouraged by the Cabinet Office eager to protect the Royal Family from the scandal which would undoubtedly emerge. So they remain locked up, defying all attempts and ignoring the Freedom of Information Act. And the government has spent £180,000 of our money ensuring they stay secret.


Now it is revealed that Lownie has been spied on by the successive Tory governments over the past five years. It’s not disputed, the Cabinet Office has told Andrew that it would take 650 hours just to collect the material it has on him. This, by the way, is the same administration led by Rishi Sunak who pledged to lead a government based on decency and ethical values.


Andrew had also asked the FBI to release its wartime files on Mountbatten which began to be compiled after concerns about the man’s proclivities. When he finally asked why he couldn’t have them the answer was: ‘Because they have been destroyed.’ So when were they destroyed? ‘After you asked for them.’ He concluded, not unreasonably, that it followed a request from our government.


Lest you think that Andrew Lownie is some dangerous Leftie hell-bent on bringing down the Royal Family (though some of its number seem quite capable of doing that without his help) he is the son of a judge, educated at Westminster and Cambridge and a Tory candidate in 1992. So no revolutionary and take my word for it, he’s a delightful chap who happens to want his biographies to tell the truth. His volumes on Guy Burgess, the Duke of Windsor and of course the wretched Mountbattens all testify to that.

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Has it really come to this? The United States of America, the land of the free which has given us Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Martin Luther King, JFK, Einstein, Rosa Parks, Billy Wilder, F Scott Fitzgerald, Aaron Copeland, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, now has a criminal, sex offending liar, a moral and financial bankrupt narcissist on the verge of both the White House (again) and the state pen (hopefully.)


His opponent in next year’s presidential contest will be a frail 82-year-old with reputedly a very bad temper whose approval ratings have fallen off a cliff since the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. But he has one big plus: Joe Biden is not Donald Trump. So once again the question: Why can’t a country of 330 million people and with many of the world’s leading universities and resources come up with better?


Ok, the US is essentially parochial with fewer than 37 per cent of Americans holding a passport. And it’s certainly not all New York, Washington, Seattle and San Francisco. Much of the US is backward, inward looking, dirt poor and interested only in itself. Thirty years ago I was on a cruise of Chesapeake Bay off the US east coast. We stopped at places like Williamsburg, the old colonial capital and now as fascinating as any place to learn how America evolved.


By contrast we slipped 10 miles off Maryland to Smith Island. This was no playboy paradise for the rich and sophisticated. It is a patch of scrub in the middle of Chesapeake with a population of little more than 200 who still speak with the Dorset accent of their ancestors when they settled in the 17th century. We were greeted by the mayor, an hospitable man who, it transpired was also police chief, fire chief and headmaster of the only infants’ school.


In its way poor little scruffy Smith Island told us as much about the history of this extraordinary country as beautiful Williamsburg did the day before. Because this was the other America and next time you wonder where on earth the vile Trump gets his support spare a thought for all those places like Smith Island.

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I wrote earlier about my passion for cricket. At the other end of the spectrum from that thrilling Ashes series is village cricket but even at that level I was a bit of a dud. Most memorable was a charity match I tried to organise with a veritable Who’s Who of showbizzy stars promised. In the end it was all down to the very charming Radio One disc jockey Ed Stewart (a decent all rounder) to lead his motley crew.


Most notable was Johnnie Speight, creator of the appalling Alf Garnett. He stood on the boundary, legs apart with a pint in one hand and a fag in the other and when troubled by the ball treated it with huge disdain, allowing it unfettered through his legs on its way to a four. He was the real star of the afternoon.