Clark appearing on Opinions in 1993
|Minister of State for Defence Procurement|
25 July 1989 - 14 April 1992
|The Lord Trefgarne|
|Minister of State for Trade|
24 January 1986 - 24 July 1989
|The Lord Trefgarne|
|Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment|
13 June 1983 - 24 January 1986
|Member of Parliament|
for Kensington and Chelsea
1 May 1997 - 5 September 1999
|Member of Parliament|
for Plymouth Sutton
28 February 1974 - 9 April 1992
Alan Kenneth Mackenzie Clark
13 April 1928
|Died||5 September 1999 (aged 71)|
Saltwood Castle, Saltwood, Kent
(Caroline) Jane Beuttler
|Alma mater||Christ Church, Oxford|
Alan Kenneth Mackenzie Clark (13 April 1928 - 5 September 1999) was a British Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), author and diarist. He served as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher's governments at the Departments of Employment, Trade and Defence. He became a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 1991.
He was the author of several books of military history, including his controversial work The Donkeys (1961), which inspired the musical satire Oh, What a Lovely War!
Clark became known for his flamboyance, wit, irreverence and keen support of animal rights. Norman Lamont called him "the most politically incorrect, outspoken, iconoclastic and reckless politician of our times". Clark is particularly remembered for his three-volume Alan Clark Diaries, which contains 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.
Alan Clark was born at 55 Lancaster Gate, London, the elder son of art historian Kenneth Clark (later Lord Clark), who was of Scottish parentage, and his wife Elizabeth Winifred Clark (née Martin), who was Irish. His sister and brother, fraternal twins Colette (known as Celly) and Colin, were born in 1932. At the age of six he began as a day boy at Egerton House, a preparatory school in Marylebone, and from there at the age of nine went on as a boarder to St Cyprian's School, Eastbourne. Clark was one of the seventy boys rescued when the school building was destroyed by fire in May 1939. He was relocated with the school to Midhurst.
In September 1940, with the Luftwaffe threatening south-east England, the Clarks moved their son to a safer location at Cheltenham College Junior School. From there he went to Eton in January 1942. In February 1946 while at Eton he joined the Territorial training regiment of the Household Cavalry based at Windsor, but was discharged in August when he had left Eton. He then went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Modern History under Hugh Trevor-Roper, obtaining a third-class honours degree. After Oxford he wrote articles for the motoring press before he went on to read for the bar. He was called to the bar in 1955 but did not practise law. Instead, he began privately studying military history with a view to professional writing on the topic.
Clark's first book, The Donkeys (1961), was a revisionist history of the British Expeditionary Force's (BEF) campaigns at the beginning of the First World War. The book covers Western Front operations during 1915, including the offensives at Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge 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 describes the battle scenes, and criticises the actions of several of the generals involved in the heavy loss of life that occurred. Much of the book is based on the political manoeuvres behind the scenes as commanders jostled for influence, and Sir John French's difficulties dealing with his French allies and with Herbert Kitchener. Haig's own diaries are used to demonstrate how Haig positioned himself to take over command. The publication sold well, and is still in print 50 years after its first print run, being regarded as an important work on the British experience of the World War.
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 1921 Princess Evelyn Blücher published her memoirs, which attributed the phrase to OHL (the German GHQ) in 1918. Clark was unable to find the origin of the expression. He prefaced the book with a supposed dialogue between two generals and attributed the dialogue to the memoirs of German general Erich von Falkenhayn. Clark was equivocal about the source for the dialogue for many years, but in 2007, his friend Euan Graham recalled a conversation in the mid-1960s when Clark, on being challenged as to the dialogue's provenance, looked sheepish and said, "Well I invented it." This supposed invention emboldened critics of The Donkeys to condemn the work.
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. Liddell Hart read the drafts and was concerned by Clark's "intermittent carelessness". He produced several lists of corrections, which were incorporated, and wrote "It is a fine piece of writing, and often brilliantly penetrating."
Even before publication, Clark's work came under attack from supporters of Haig, including the Field Marshal's son and historians John Terraine, Robert Blake and Hugh Trevor-Roper, former tutor to Clark, who was married to Haig's daughter. 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. However, John Terraine and A. J. P. Taylor wrote damning reviews and historian Michael Howard wrote "As history, it is worthless", criticising its "slovenly scholarship". Howard nonetheless commended its readability and noted that descriptions of battles and battlefields are "sometimes masterly".Field Marshal Montgomery later told Clark it was "A Dreadful Tale: You have done a good job in exposing the total failure of the generalship".
In more recent years, the work has been criticised by some historians for being one-sided in its treatment of World War One generals. Brian Bond, in editing a 1991 collection of essays on First World War history, expressed the collective desire of the authors to move beyond "popular stereotypes of The Donkeys" while also acknowledging that serious leadership mistakes were made and that the authors would do little to rehabilitate the reputations of, for instance, the senior commanders on The Somme.
The historian Peter Simkins complained that it was frustratingly difficult to counter Clark's prevailing view. Professor Richard Holmes made a similar complaint, writing that "Alan Clark's The Donkeys, for all its verve and amusing narrative, added a streak of pure deception to the writings of the First World War. Its title is based on 'Lions led by Donkeys'. Sadly for historical accuracy, there is no evidence whatever for this; none. Not a jot or scintilla. The real problem is that such histories have sold well and continue to do so. They reinforce historical myth by delivering to the reader exactly what they expect to read". Clark's work was described as "contemptible" by Henry Paget, the Marquess of Anglesey who regarded Clark as the most arrogant and least respectable writer on the War, but this impartiality of this view may have been overshadowed by the fact that Anglesey's own 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." Graham Stewart, Clark's researcher for a later political history that he would write entitled The Tories, noted: "Alan wasn't beyond quoting people selectively to make them look bad".
Clark went on to publish several more works of military history through the 1960s, including Barbarossa in 1965 examining the Operation Barbarossa offensive of the Second World War; he also tried his hand at novel writing, but none of the subsequent books were as commercially successful or drew the same attention as "The Donkeys" had achieved, and he abandoned the path of military history in the mid-1970s to pursue a professional career in national politics.
Completely opposed to the Common Market, Clark joined the Conservative Monday Club in 1968 and was soon Chairman of its Wiltshire branch. In 1971 he was blacklisted by Conservative Party Central Office for being too right-wing but after representations by him, and others, he was removed from the blacklist.
He unsuccessfully sought the conservative selection for Weston super-Mare in 1970, missing out to Jerry Wiggin. He subsequently became MP for Plymouth Sutton at the February 1974 general election with a majority of 8,104, when Harold Wilson took over from Edward Heath as prime minister of a minority Labour government. At the General Election in October 1974, when Labour gained a small overall majority, Clark's vote fell by 1,192 votes but he still had a comfortable majority with 5,188. His first five years in parliament were spent on the Conservative opposition benches. He was still a member of the Monday Club in May 1975. It is unclear when he let his membership of the club lapse but possibly it was upon becoming a government minister. He continued to address Club events until 1992.
During the subsequent Party leadership contest he was urged by Airey Neave to vote for Margaret Thatcher but he is thought to have favoured Willie Whitelaw. The following year came the free vote on the Common Market and Clark, praising Enoch Powell's speech, voted against. The next day he told the socialist MP Dennis Skinner that "I'd rather live in a socialist Britain than one ruled by a lot of foreigners." Although he was personally liked by Margaret Thatcher, for whom he had great admiration, and the columnist George Hutchinson, writing in The Times tipped him for inclusion in the Shadow Cabinet, he was never promoted to the cabinet, remaining in mid-ranking ministerial positions during the 1980s.
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. Irritated by what he regarded as a bureaucratically written civil-service speech, he galloped through the script, skipping over pages of text. The then-opposition MP Clare Short stood up on a point of order 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. 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 despatch box.
In 1986, Clark was promoted to Minister for 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.
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 about what he knew with regard to arms 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 held strong views on British unionism, racial difference, social class, and was in support of animal rights, nationalist protectionism and 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 in a departmental meeting, allegedly referred to Africa as "Bongo Bongo Land". When called to account, however, Clark denied the comment had any racist overtones, claiming it had simply been a reference to the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo.
Clark argued that the media and the government failed to pick out the racism towards white people and ignored any racist attacks on white people. He also, however, described the National Front chairman, John Tyndall, as "a bit of a blockhead" and disavowed his ideas.
Clark was a passionate supporter of animal rights, joining activists in demonstrations at Dover against live export, and outside the House of Commons in support of Animal Liberation Front hunger-striker Barry Horne.
Clark published the first volume of his political and personal diaries in 1993, which caused a minor embarrassment at the time with their 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 all his furniture" and judged it "Snobby, but cutting". His account of Thatcher's downfall in 1990 has been described as the most vivid in existence. 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.
In 1958, Clark, aged 30, married 16-year-old (Caroline) Jane, daughter of Colonel Leslie Brindley Bream Beuttler, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, O.B.E., and a descendant on her mother's side of the Scottish ornithologist William Robert Ogilvie-Grant, grandson of the 6th Earl of Seafield. They were married for 41 years and had two sons. His son James (who lived in Eriboll, a Scottish estate) died of a brain tumour on 15 August 2019, aged 59.
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 barrister (and part-time junior judge), and her daughters, Josephine and Alison. 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?" She referred to her husband as an "S, H, one, T".
In 1993 he gave a half-hour Opinions lecture, televised by Channel 4, of which he said in his diary: "It was good. Clear, assured, moving. I looked compos and in my 'prime'. Many people saw it. All were enthusiastic. Today acres of coverage in The Times." In 1997 Clark presented a four-part series for the BBC entitled "Alan Clark's History of the Tory Party".
In 2004, John Hurt portrayed Clark (and Jenny Agutter his wife Jane) in the BBC's The Alan Clark Diaries, reigniting some of the controversies surrounding their original publication and once again brought his name into the British press and media. An authorised biography of Alan Clark by Ion Trewin, the editor of his diaries, was published in September 2009.
... despite the saturation coverage of the First World War in the 1960s, little was produced of lasting scholarly value because there was so little attempt to place the war in historical perspective; books such as The Donkeys and films such as Oh, What a Lovely War tell us as much about the spirit of the 1960s as about the period supposedly portrayed.