I edited this book in 1990 and it was published by the Historian’s Press. It wasn’t a big print run, which was a mistake as it sold out quickly, mainly due to the strong turnover at Hatchards bookshop on Piccadilly. There was a pile of the books on the front desk, near the till,l that kept on going down at a gratifyingly fast rate. I guess it was mainly the old buffers from the clubs of Pall Mall and St. James’s buying the book, former mates (or maybe just youthful admirers) of Bracken and Beaverbrook.
I came across the correspondence between the two old rogues in the House of Lords archive as I was researching my previous book, Twilight of Truth. As befitted these bucaneering and irreverent press barons, the letters were great fun; witty, gossipy, extremely judgemental and very politically incorrect. And of course, as they both shared a deep admiration for Winston Churchill, the letters were a great source of information about the post-war career of the Britain’ s wartime leader.
This was how the historian and Conservative MP Robert Rhodes James reviewed it in History Today:
“Brenden Bracken was a great letter-writer – or, to be more precise, a great dictator of excellent letters – and I had the eerie experience of receiving one from him the day after his death in 1958. It was, as usual, full of wise advice and kindness, and astonishing coming from a man dying a very painful and difficult death. Unlike Beaverbrook, whose marvellous letters tended to be very brief, but full of matter, Brendan’s were usually long, discursive, and gossipy. He seemed to have known anyone who mattered from a remarkably early age and took his politics, as he did his journalism and business activities, with great gusto. He and Boothby – dubbed ‘the black and tans’ because of the colour of their hair – were virtually Churchill’s only supporters in the Conservative Party in the dismal 1930s, but whereas Boothby’s career came to a shuddering – if temporary – halt through little fault of his own, Brendan went on to be the best Minister of Information ever and a rather improbable First Lord of the Admiralty.
But in later years he drifted away from Churchill, and became closer to Beaverbrook, with whom he had a great and keen affinity. They were both buccaneers who amassed considerable wealth, but Brendan’s pleasure was giving his away, and not least to Sedbergh, where I first met him as a schoolboy with a precocious interest in politics which Brendan warmly encouraged. He was delighted when an essay of mine on Lord Randolph Churchill was published in History Today, and even more delighted when Peter Quennell told him that he had assumed it had been written by a don, and not an undergraduate, which I then was. A copy was sent at once to Nurnber Ten, where it was approved of, and as George Weidenfeld had also read it this was the beginning of my historical and biographical career. Alas, Brendan died a year before my biography was published.
Some reviewers have expressed disappointment at these letters, but the fact is they saw each other so often and spoke so frequently on the telephone that it was only when Beaverbrook was abroad, hungering for political and other news and gossip, that the correspondence flowed. By the 1950s both were in reality out of The Great Game, and Bracken’s version of the fall of Eden has been given far more importance than it deserved, It was ill-health that led to Eden’s resignation, not a sense of guilt or the result of a conspiracy, Nonetheless, Bracken’s impressive web of informants had clearly told him the truth about the Anglo-Israeli collusion, which was being strenuously denied.
If not of the first political importance, these letters are enjoyable to read, especially for someone who remembers excellent lunches and conversation with them both, and recalls them with such affection and admiration.
Many years after Brendan’s death there was a party in his honour to which I was invited at his old home in Lord North Street (whose name he had changed from pedestrian North Street), in the lovely downstairs study he had created by knocking down a wall into the adjoining house. I wish I had brought a tape recorder, because Harold Macmillan, without a note, made a truly wonderful speech about his old friend and colleague-in-arms. Brendan would also have relished the champagne.
Richard Cockett, whose Twilight of Truth marked him out as an outstanding rising young historian, has done his editorial and introductory tasks with the skill and judgement that I would have expected, and my only regret is that Beaverbrook did not travel abroad even more often. And not for the first time as a historian, I lament the invention of the telephone.”
And this was the view of Philip Ziegler in the Daily Telegraph, September 22nd 1990:
“Max Beaverbrook and Brendan Bracken were two of the most odious men in public – or indeed private – life. The difference between them was that while Beaverbrook was actively malign, Bracken was rarely worse than mischievous… Yet both men had redeeming virtues. They were capable of great generosity and quixotic loyalty, they had energy and enthusiasm, they got much fun out of life and provided it too; they were never boring. Above all they were courageous. The letters come mainly from Bracken, for relatively few of Beaverbrook’s survive. The editor Richard Cockett is restrained and sensible… ”