Saturday, 27 September 2014

Dangerous to Know - Chapman Pincher

It's quite something to read a book written by a man in his 100th year.  Chapman Pincher, chief investigative reporter for the Daily Express when it was a proper paper and not something you wouldn't even wrap your chips in, lived not only to celebrate his centenary but also to see this final book published.  He died on August 5th.

Of course, we only read Pincher for his spy scoops.  This, after all, was the man who first revealed that the head of MI5, Roger Hollis, was almost certainly a Russian spy and who collaborated with Peter Wright before Spycatcher.  Fortunately, no one knows that better than Pincher himself and this book not only summarizes his biggest coups but even adds new information to some of them.

It's worth knowing, however, that Pincher retired from Fleet Street as long ago as 1979.  For the last thirty-five years he combined investigative non-fiction with novels of all kinds and his lifelong passion for field sports.  Indeed, many of his biggest stories were leaked by friends from shooting and fishing (he doesn't seem to have been a hunting man).

Pincher never sets out to be likeable.  He was a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, incredibly snobbish for a publican's son born in India and brought up in Yorkshire, and an olympic-level name-dropper.  He knew this and is unapologetic here.  The fact is, he might have been wrong in his views but he was the greatest journalist of the last fifty years and was absolutely honest in his revelations.  It seems bizarre, nowadays, to couple journalist and honest in the same sentence, but Pincher might well have been the last of his breed.

The greatest revelation in Dangerous to Know, however, is that Pincher might have had to give up fishing in his late nineties, but at the age of ninety-nine his prose was as elegant and lucid as in his heyday in the 1960s.  Amazing.

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