Alan Clark: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 Alan Clark

Member of Parliament
for Plymouth Sutton
In office
28 February 1974 – 9 April 1992
Preceded by David Owen
Succeeded by Gary Streeter

Member of Parliament
for Kensington & Chelsea
In office
1 May 1997 – 5 September 1999
Preceded by (new constituency)
Succeeded by Michael Portillo

Born 13 April 1928
Died 5 September 1999 (aged 71)
Saltwood Castle, Kent
Political party Conservative
Residence Saltwood Castle

Alan Kenneth Mackenzie Clark (13 April 1928 – 5 September 1999) was a British Conservative MP, military historian, and diarist. He served as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher's governments at the Departments of Employment, Trade, and Defence, and became a privy councillor in 1991. He was the author of several books of military history, including his controversial work The Donkeys (1961), which is considered to have inspired the musical satire, Oh, What a Lovely War!

Clark became known for his flamboyance, wit, and irreverence. Norman Lamont called him "the most politically incorrect, outspoken, iconoclastic and reckless politician of our times".[1] He is particularly remembered for his three-volume diary, a candid account of political life under Thatcher, and a moving description of the weeks preceding his death, when he continued to write until he could no longer focus on the page.

Clark was a passionate supporter of animal rights, joining activists in demonstrations at Dover against live export,[2] and outside the House of Commons in support of Animal Liberation Front hunger-striker Barry Horne.[3] When he died after radiation therapy for a brain tumour, his family said Clark wanted it to be stated that he had "gone to join Tom and the other dogs."[4]


Early life

Clark was the elder son of the renowned art historian, Kenneth, Lord Clark of Saltwood. He was born at 55 Lancaster Gate, London, and educated at St Cyprian's School, Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Modern History under Hugh Trevor-Roper, obtaining a third-class honours degree. He served in the Household Cavalry before he went on to read for the bar. He was called to the bar in 1955, but did not practise. Instead he became a military historian.

Historical writing

Clark's first book, The Donkeys (1961), was a revisionist history of the British Expeditionary Force's campaigns at the beginning of the Great War. The book covers Western Front operations during 1915, including the offensives at Neuve Chapelle and Loos, and ending with the dismissal of Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, and his replacement by Douglas Haig.

Clark's choice of subject was strongly influenced by Lord Lee of Fareham a family friend who had never forgotten what he saw as the shambles of the BEF. In developing his work, Clark became close friends with historian Basil Liddell Hart who acted as his mentor. However, even before publication Clark's work was coming under attack from supporters of Lord Haig, including his son 2nd Lord Haig and historians John Terraine, Robert Blake and Hugh Trevor-Roper, former tutor to Clark, who was married to Haig's daughter.[5] On publication, "The Donkeys" received very supportive comments from Lord Beaverbrook, who recommended the work to Winston Churchill, and The Times printed a positive review.[6] However, John Terraine[7] and A.J.P. Taylor[8] wrote damning reviews, and Michael Howard wrote "As history it is worthless" and criticised "slovenly scholarship". Howard however commended its readability and noted that descriptions of battles and battlefields are "sometimes masterly".[9] Field Marshall Montgomery later told Clark it was "A Dreadful Tale: You have done a good job in exposing the total failure of the generalship".[10] The book was considered to be the inspiration for the popular pacifist musical Oh! What a Lovely War, and Clark, after legal wrangles, was awarded some royalties.

The book became popular with the reading public as provocative and entertaining. In more recent years, as the pendulum has moved in favour of Haig, the work has been criticised by some historians for being one-sided in its treatment of World War One generals. War Museum historian Peter Simkins complained that it was frustratingly difficult to counter Clark's prevailing view.[11] Clark's work was described as "contemptible" by the Marquess of Anglesey, whose history of the British Cavalry had been reviewed by Clark with the comments "cavalry are nearly always a disaster, a waste of space and resources".[12]

The book's title was drawn from the expression "Lions led by donkeys" which has been widely used to compare British soldiers with their commanders. In 1920 Princess Evelyn Blücher published her memoirs, which attributed the phrase to the German GHQ in 1918. However, Clark attributed the words to German General Max Hoffmann at the start of the war, but was equivocal about its origin for many years. Clark claimed the words had initially been used by German General Max Hoffmann. Before his death, Clark admitted he had made it up.[13][14]

Clark produced several more studies of the First and Second World Wars, including Barbarossa — after Operation Barbarossa — a history of the Eastern Front in the Second World War, before becoming involved in politics.

Political career

Clark became MP for Plymouth Sutton at the February 1974 general election. During his first five years in parliament, the Conservative Party was in opposition. Although he was personally liked by Margaret Thatcher, for whom he had great admiration, she never entrusted him with high office.

Clark received his first ministerial posting as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment in 1983, where he was responsible for moving the approval of regulations relating to equal pay in the House of Commons. His speech in 1983 followed a wine-tasting dinner with his friend of many years standing, Christopher Selmes. The complexities of the regulations were too unclear for him to answer questions, and the then-opposition MP Clare Short stood up and, after acknowledging that MPs cannot formally accuse each other of being drunk in the House of Commons, accused him of being "incapable", a euphemism for drunk.[15] Although the Government benches were furious at the accusation, Clark later admitted in his diaries that the wine-tasting had affected him. To date, he is the only Member of Parliament to have been accused in the House of Commons of being drunk at the dispatch box.

In 1986 he was promoted to Minister of Trade at the Department of Trade and Industry. It was during this time that he became involved with the issue of export licences to Iraq. In 1989, he became Minister for Defence Procurement at the Ministry of Defence.[16]

Clark left Parliament in 1992 following Margaret Thatcher's fall from power. His admission during the Matrix Churchill trial that he had been "economical with the actualité" in answer to parliamentary questions over export licences to Iraq, caused the collapse of the trial and the establishment of the Scott Inquiry, which helped undermine John Major's government.

Clark became bored with life outside politics and returned to Parliament as member for Kensington and Chelsea in the election of 1997. Clark was critical of NATO's campaign in the Balkans.[17][18]

Clark was an outspoken maverick with strong views on British unionism, racial difference, social class, and in support of animal rights. It is evident that he was a High Tory, nationalist and a protectionist and at the least, always put the British interest above all others, which included strong Euroscepticism. He referred to Enoch Powell as 'The Prophet'. Clark once declared: "It is natural to be proud of your race and your country", and many critics regarded such sentiments of racial superiority as the motivation behind a comment made in a departmental meeting in which he allegedly referred to Africa as "Bongo Bongo land".[19] When called to account, however, by then Prime Minister John Major, Clark denied the comment had any racist overtones, claiming it had simply been a reference to the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo.[20]

When Clark was Minister of Trade, responsible for overseeing arms sales to foreign governments, he was interviewed by journalist John Pilger who asked him:[21]

JP "Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human suffering (by supplying arms for Indonesia's war in East Timor)?"
AC "No, not in the slightest, it never entered my head."
JP "I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and are seriously concerned about the way animals are killed."
AC "Yeah?"
JP "Doesn’t that concern extend to humans?"
AC "Curiously not."

While involved in the Matrix Churchill trial he was cited in a divorce case in South Africa, in which it was revealed he had had affairs with Valerie Harkess, the wife of a South African judge, and her daughters Josephine and Alison.[22] After sensationalist tabloid headlines, Clark's wife Jane remarked upon what Clark had called "the coven" with the line: 'Well, what do you expect when you sleep with below stairs types?', and referred to her husband as an: 'S,H,one,T'.


Clark published the first volume of his political and personal diaries in 1993, which caused a minor embarrassment at the time with their candid descriptions of senior Conservative politicians such as Michael Heseltine, Douglas Hurd, and Kenneth Clarke. He quoted Michael Jopling — referring to Heseltine, deputy PM at the time — as saying "The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture" and judged it "Snobby but cutting".[23] [24] His account of Thatcher's downfall in 1990 has been described as the most vivid that we have and is now accepted by most contemporary political historians as the definitive account. Two subsequent volumes of his diaries cover the earlier and later parts of Clark's parliamentary career. The diaries reveal recurring worries about Japanese militarism but his real views are often not clear because he enjoyed making 'tongue in cheek' remarks to the discomfiture of those he believed to be fools, as in his sympathy for a British version of National Socialism.[25]


He died in 1999 of a brain tumour which he was convinced was caused by his heavy cellular phone use. His diary account of his slow death has been lauded as moving and explicit. He is buried in the grounds of Saltwood Castle. After his death, the Kensington and Chelsea constituency was won by Michael Portillo.


In 2004, John Hurt portrayed Clark in the BBC's The Alan Clark Diaries, re-igniting some of the controversies surrounding their original publication and once again brought his name into the UK press and media. An authorised biography of Alan Clark by Ion Trewin, the editor of his diaries, was published in September 2009.

Styles and honours

  • Mr Alan Clark (1928–1969)
  • The Hon. Alan Clark (1969–1974)
  • The Hon. Alan Clark MP (1974–1991)
  • The Rt. Hon. Alan Clark MP (1991–1992)
  • The Rt. Hon. Alan Clark (1992–1997)
  • The Rt. Hon. Alan Clark MP (1997–1999)


  • Diaries: Three volumes 1972-1999
    • Volume 1 Diaries: In Power 1983-1992 (1993)
    • Volume 2 Diaries: Into Politics 1972-1982 (2000)
    • Volume 3 Diaries: The Last Diaries 1993-1999 (2002)
  • The Donkeys, A History of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915 (1961)
  • The Fall Of Crete (1963)
  • Barbarossa, The Russo-German Conflict 1941-45 (1965)
  • The Suicide of Empires (1971)
  • Aces High, The War in the Air Over the Western Front 1914-18 (1973)
  • The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State 1922-1997 (1998)
  • Backfire, A Passion for Cars and Motoring (2001)
  • Summer Season: A Novel
  • The Lion Heart: A tale of the war in Vietnam


  1. ^ "Thatcher leads Clark tributes". BBC News Online (London). 7 September 1999. 
  2. ^ Macnaghten, Phil; Urry, John (1998). Contested natures (1 ed.). London: Sage. ISBN 9780761953128. 
  3. ^ Clark, Alan. The Last Diaries: 1993-1999. Phoenix, p. 361.
  4. ^ Lyall, Sandra. "Alan Clark, a British Scold, Is Dead at 71", The New York Times, 8 September 1999.
  5. ^ Trewin 2009, pp. 153-177.
  6. ^ Trewin 2009, pp. 176-189.
  7. ^ Sunday Telegraph (London). 16 July 1961. 
  8. ^ Taylor, A.J.P. (23 July 1961). "Dairies bring doom". The Observer (London): p. 19. 
  9. ^ Howard, Michael (3 August 1961). The Listener (London: BBC). 
  10. ^ Trewin 2009, p. 178.
  11. ^ Simkins, Peter (8 December 1996). The Sunday Times (London). 
  12. ^ The Daily Telegraph (London). 24 December 1974. 
  13. ^ Corrigan, p. 213. Mud, Blood and Poppycock.
  14. ^ Trewin 2009, pp. 182-189.
  15. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 20 July 1983, columns 483–484
  16. ^ Real Lives - Channel 4's Portrait Gallery
  17. ^ BBC News | UK Politics | Alan Clark: A clumsy war
  18. ^ 3 Alan Clark Diaries: The Last Diaries, Page 389, Phoenix Paperback 2003 Edition, April the 4th, 1999: I am hugely depressed about Kosovo: Those loathsome, verminous gypsies; and the poor brave Serbs.
  19. ^ Financial Times 7 February 1985 "Tory minister faces row over race remark"
  20. ^ Clark, A. The Last Diaries: In and Out of the Wilderness, Phoenix, 2003, p.219.
  21. ^ Pilger, John, Documentary:Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy, 1994.
  22. ^ Dodd, Vikram (2004-06-12). "Coven's footnote to Clark diaries". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2010-03-07. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  23. ^ Alan Clark Diaries: In Power 1983-1992 (Wednesday 17 June 1987) 1993 Weidenfield & Nicholson
  24. ^ Gardham, Duncan (22 September 2008). "Lord Heseltine traces his roots to poverty in Wales". Daily Telegraph (London). 
  25. ^ 1 Alan Clark Diaries: Into Power, Page 280, Phoenix Paperback 2000 Edition, December the 8th, 1981: Frank [Frank Johnson, sketch writer for The Times] pretended he wanted to talk about the Tory Party, but he really prefers to talk about the Nazis, concerning whom he is curious, but not, of course, sympathetic. Yes, I told him, I was a Nazi, I really believed it to be the ideal system, and that it was a disaster for the Anglo-Saxon races and for the world that it was extinguished. He both gulped and grinned 'But surely, er, you mean ... (behaving like an unhappy interviewer in Not the Nine O'Clock News after, e.g., Pamela Stephenson had said something frightfully shocking) ideally in terms of administrative and economic policy ... you cannot really, er ...' Oh yes, I told him, I was completely committed to the whole philosophy. The blood and violence was an essential ingredient of its strength, the heroic tradition of cruelty every bit as powerful and a thousand times more ancient than the Judaeo-Christian ethic.


  • Trewin, Ion (2009). Alan Clark: the biography. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780297850731. 

External links

Offices held

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
David Owen
Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton
Feb 19741992
Succeeded by
Gary Streeter
New constituency Member of Parliament for Kensington and Chelsea
Succeeded by
Michael Portillo


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Alan Kenneth Mackenzie Clark (April 13, 1928September 5, 1999) was a British Conservative politician, historian and diarist. The son of art historian Kenneth Clark, he read modern history at Oxford and qualified as a Barrister, but never practiced. His book "The Donkeys" (1961) argued that British troops were poorly led in the First World War. Clark became Conservative Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton in 1974, and served in the government of Margaret Thatcher. After standing down from Parliament in 1992, he published his diaries the next year which became an instant classic for their combination of political intrigue, high living, and Clark's many sexual exploits with women.


  • You cannot come here because you are not white.
  • John Pilger: I read that you were a vegetarian and you are seriously concerned about the way animals are killed.
    Alan Clark: Yeah.
    John Pilger: Doesn’t that concern extend to the way humans, albeit foreigners, are killed?
    Alan Clark: Curiously not.
  • The only solution for dealing with the IRA is to kill 600 people in one night.
  • I am not a fascist. Fascists are shopkeepers, I am a Nazi.
    • William Donaldson (ed.), Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics (London 2002), p. 152
    • Letter to the Guardian.

Diaries: In Power (1993)

Originally published without sub-title as Diaries, they cover the years 1983 to 1991. ISBN 1857991427.

  • So what does it matter where it was when it was hit? We could have sunk it if it'd been tied up on the quayside in a neutral port and everyone would still have been delighted.
  • I only can properly enjoy carol services if I am having an illicit affair with someone in the congregation. Why is this? Perhaps because they are essentially pagan, not Christian, celebrations.
    • December 17, 1985; page 125.
  • I fell into conversation with Douglas. His is a split personality. À deux he is delightful; clever, funny, observant, drily cynical. But get him anywhere near "display mode", particularly if there are officials around, and he might as well have a corncob up his arse. Pompous, trite, high-sounding, cautiously guarded.
    • January 29, 1988; page 198.
  • I am confirmed in my opinion that it is hopeless here. All we can do is arm the Orangemen – to the teeth – and get out.
    • January 30, 1991; page 395.
    • On the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

External links

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