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The most extraordinary thing about this recording of Alan Clark’s diaries is the author’s own voice. Those who have read his chronicle of life as a Conservative MP and minister in the government of Margaret Thatcher will have developed a strong impression of his character. So how strange it is to hear that Clark sounded much less like a Jim Hacker or a Francis Urquhart and much more like Kenneth Williams. Yes—that Kenneth Williams. For, extraordinary though it may be, Clark, and there is no other way to put this, did not sound especially posh. Or at least not as much as might be expected. His voice is high and nasal, his vowels ringing out with an almost estuarine twang.
But then Clark was always a contrarian. A high Tory, with estates in Scotland and Sussex, he was also a vegetarian who didn’t allow hunting on his land. A staunch right-winger, he quite openly said that he liked the Labour party, especially Frank Dobson, whose collection of eye-wateringly dirty stories Clark particularly enjoyed. In his diaries he often quotes “the Fuhrer,” and compares the layout of his offices to that favoured by Mussolini, but is frantic with worry when a he finds a badger caught in a trap. He was a raffish, attractive womaniser who loved fast cars, but was riven with self-doubt. But Clark happily revealed these contradictory facets of his character—the unstudied accent only adds to the impression that he had nothing whatsoever to hide.
Clark reads well, his tone of voice matching closely the narrative ups and downs. Certain passages are frosted with venom, especially when he dismisses the “gnomes,” the “shits,” the “creeps” and the “wankers” who inhabit the Westminster village. At these moments, the voice hardens, the delivery becomes punchy and sardonic. He must have made a terrible enemy. But at other times, he becomes gentle, reflective, poetic even, as with the extraordinary passage in…