BEVERLEY BAXTER'S LONDON LETTER

"It’s Like This, Lord Beaverbrook —”

August 15 1948
BEVERLEY BAXTER'S LONDON LETTER

"It’s Like This, Lord Beaverbrook —”

August 15 1948

"It’s Like This, Lord Beaverbrook —”

BEVERLEY BAXTER'S LONDON LETTER

LORD BEAVERBROOK loves the telephone. At his country house there are telephones on the terrace, telephones in every room, a telephone in the swimming pool, even a telephone in his bathroom. He picks one up and tells his private exchange operator to get through to this or that person. When the person is on the line Ivord Beaverbrook says: “Good morning. What’s going on?”

He has just returned from Canada where, as Chancelor of the University of New Brunswick, he has been fulfilling his special and unusual duties. He is the proprietor of the Daily Express, the Sunday Express and the Evening Standard, but lie holds no directorship or post with them, has no office, and is very unlikely even to visit them.

But at this moment all the editorial and busines heads are at the alert waiting for a telephone call and the familiar voice: “What’s going on?” I, too, am writing with one eye on the telephone on my desk, for although I have held no executive position on the Beaver’s papers since 1933, we maintain a close and cordial professional relationship. Therefore, it is dollars lo doughnuts that I shall soon hear the abrupt friendliness of “What’s going on?” and I shall have to report on the tides, the tendencies and the turn of events.

Beaver brook is a great talker. He is also a remarkable listener. As long as you interest him his whole gigantic powers of concentration are on you and you alonewhich is both flattering and disconcerting. His fault is that he has no patience with qualifications, which isa mistake, for qualifications and compromise make up much of life.

Therefore, I suggest we assume that the telephone has rung, that his operator has duly informed me that Lord Beaverbrook is on the telephone and that after a buzz we hear the familiar voice: “Good morning. How are you? How’s your wife? Good. Yes, I’m tine. W hut’s going on?” Now it would be unwise to assume that His Lordship is like the man from Mars and has no knowledge of what the world has been doing with itself. The Beaver may journey to the banks of the Miramichi and sing the New Brunswick lament, “The Jones Boys,” but newspapers and dispatches are flown to him from London, Parisand New York which, with the admirable aid of the New Brunswick newspapers, keep him reasonably wellinformed.

Therefore, we shall first tell the Beaver that Churchill’s stock is rising to something like its wartime level.

That does not indicate doubt or displeasure on Beaver’s part. On the contrary, Churchill remains his idol and no amount of clay on the idol’s feet will affect his tenacious loyalty. It was not always so. There were times, 15 years ago, when they fought each other to a standstill, but their friendship always survived. It was in the war that their swift minds and boundless courage combined for the good of humanity and the downfall of the devil. So Beaverbrook, the romanticist, sees no wrong in Churchill today. Which, being translated, means that he admits no wrong.

“Churchill’s stock is rising,” I shall say, “because the country longs for a strong voice again. It wants to hear the trumpet instead of the piccolo. The English are getting tired of being pushed around by everybody. On the other hand, Attlee scored heavily when he made that broadcast in June telling the dockers to go back to work. It was the best thing he has ever done.”

“Did you hear it ?”

“Yes. It was on the wireless.”

"Then Attlee’s stock is rising too?”

This is a customary situation in telephone dialogues with the great Max. You start off to reveal what is in your mind and you end up with his telling you what you really think. So one must blandly but firmly stick to one’s point. There is no logical reason why the prestige of two political opponents should not advance at the same time. On the other hand, and this we shall say to Max, it is not possible for two conflicting political ideologies to advance simultaneously in public approval. Therefore, I adhere to my view that both Churchill and the Tories are on the upgrade.

"So you think the Tories will sweep the country next time?”

“That is possible.”

“The women are exhausted, impatient and disillusioned. We think the women’s vote will swing heavily to us.”

There is a long and ominous silence at the other end. Then you hear Beaverbrook dealing with his secretary, shouting to his butler, dictating a memo into his dictaphone,

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Continued from pope 14

I laughing uproariously, rattling his 1 papers, calling for a pencil, bidding j some guest to come in. Once more j you feel bis presence at the telephone I again:

“Women are always faithful to their husbands at election time.”

That is an old trick which I got to know in the years that I edited the Express. When he is interrupted be always locks the last sentence in his memory and then resumes the conversation, even if it is half an hour later, at that exact point. In fact this mannerism once resulted in a completely understandable dialogue which took place between us after a 15-minute interruption:

“Yes?”

“No.”

The Value of Fools

Next in my report on the state of ; the nation we shall discuss the Tory ; lieutenants—Eden, Macmillan, Butler, Stanley, Lyttelton and Bracken.

“Bracken is a grand fellow," he will say.

“Yes. But he does not suffer fools gladly.”

“Why should he?”

“Because' in England a man may look a fool without being one and at, any rate; fools have votes.”

“What’s going on in the theatre?” This abrupt change can be somewhat Í wounding to the vanity, but it doe>s not mean that the Beaver has not heard what you have said. In fact it may have registered cleverly but his lordship is not one of those conversationalists who signals a bull every time the ot her person scores. Besides, he wants to { cover see much ground and he has no j time for flourishes or encores. If his j epiest ion about the theatre seems oddly j inconsequential it is perhaps necessary to explain that 1 am the dramatic critic j of his Evening Standard.

I So we tell him that the theatre is

in a bad way, that no new dramatist of consequence has appeared since the war, that acting standards have dej dined, that the West End stage needs a new arrogance and that Olivier’s “Hamlet” is the best film ever made, j “The Daily Express should help new dramatists,” the newspaper baron may say. “How about money awards for new plays by new authors and a £ 1,000 cheque for the managements that pul them on? Encourage new talent, Baxter. Always encourage new talent. There’s t oo much respect shown toward experience. Let me tell you that all experience is a form of fatigue. Do you remember when we burst on Fleet Street after the first war? None of us knew anything about newspapers. That was our strength. Now we know all about them. That’s a weakness we have to watch. COME IN! How are you? Sit down. Search for new authors and guide them to glory.”

As you will have gathered he has not asked me to come in or sit down, nor has he urged his visitor to search for new’ talent or guide authors to glory.

It is just part of his telephone technique j and design for living. A telephone to Max Beaverbrook is what a Stradivarius is to Kreisler.

“What about the newspapers?”

We tell him that the Times is much more vigorous under its new Irish-born editor, that the Mail is 100% pro-Tory and on t he upgrade under the editorship of Frank Owen, who was once a Liberal M.P.. that the Daily Express is cursed by both the Socialists and t he d ories and is brilliantly edited, that the Socialist Daily Herald is rather flat [ except for the sardonic political articles j by Michael Foot (both Foot and Frank ! Owen were formerly Beaverbrook edi¡ tors), that the Daily Worker bows I three times a day to Moscow, which j ignores its existence, that the Manchester Guardian has the smallest circulation and the best writing in England, that the News Chronicle remains a mannerism rather than a newspaper —and so on down the line.

He makes no comment hut merely wants to hear one man’s point of view. With equal patience he will listen to others on the same subject. His

omnivorous mind and his vast, unsatisfied interest in everything are never satiated. And while he will discuss newspapers with those of us who have made journalism our career, he will be just as likely to go for a walk on his estate and ask a farm hand what newspaper he reads and why. Nor will he regard the man’s answers as less important than those of professionals.

All things come to an end and Beaverbrook is not one of t hose bores who cannot get off the line without a half dozen false starts. His favorite telephone exit is an abrupt: “Good-by to you.” Which sometimes leaves you with a perfect phrase left stranded in the air. But as he has been abroad for some time he will more likely suggest a visit during the week end.

The Pro-Russian Beaver

Then, with Bracken or Balfour or any of his political friends, the conversation will go deep into the problems of the world. He will ask his guests why they do not raise the fiery cross of Empire and conduct a great crusade across the country. He will say that England is selling out to the American dollar instead of building her mighty edifice of nations.

It is unhappily true that the Tory Party has never produced a successor to Joseph Chamberlain who fought the cause of Empire economic unity, sacrificing the premiership and eventually his life to that splendid dream. Churchill proclaims the Empire faith and is enraged at any weakening of the imperial link, but his mind is also in Europe whence come our dangers.

Then Beaverbrook will talk of Russia, for he went there to see Stalin when the Germans were at the gates of Moscow. He will say that Russia has a case, that she fears the rise of a vengeful Germany supported and encouraged by the Western Powers. With the veins standing out on his massive forehead he will argue the case for Russia with all the fervor of a commis-

sar expecting promotion in the party.

Does he believe in Russia’s case? That is not the point. As he does in everything else, he puts himself into the mind of the other man. For the moment he becomes a Russian looking out on a hostile world, a Russian who saw his cities ruined and his people slaughtered by the Hun, a Russian who knows that Communism or capitalism must destroy the other.

We, in turn, will proclaim the case for the West with equal fire and he will roar back: “The last war should

never have been fought. The next one should not be fought.”

One a.m. Two a.m. He is in his 70th year and is as fresh as when the argument started. The rest of us, being younger, are tired and want some sleep. Suddenly he realizes our frailty and remarks: “Go to bed. But before you go you must sing ‘The Jones Boys.’ It is like this.”

Then standing up and with deep earnestness he sings the first line, “O, the Jones Boys!” in which there is a drop of a clear octave between the last two words. Then, in a revivalist raucous voice he sings the rest of the chorus:

They built a mill,

On the side of a hill.

And they worked all night And they worked all day But they couldn’t make That gosh darned sawmill pay.

We join him in the chorus and sing it very loudly and sadly. When it is over he says wistfully: “That is the

history of New Brunswick in the early days. The story of the Jones Boys is the story of the Maritimes in the making.”

Balfour, Bracken—or whoever they may be—say good night and start for bed. I accompany them to the door when Max indicates that he has something important to say to me.

“Pour yourself a drink,” lu? says. “Tell me. What’s going on?” ir