In this week’s Spectator, Max Hastings, former Daily Telegraph editor, comments on his viewing of DVDs of the BBC’s Face to Face interviews, which he had recently been sent as a gift. The recordings have been circulation since 2009, and it seems remarkable that he has only just caught up with them. He describes them as “compelling” and offers these comments on several of the interview subjects (including Evelyn Waugh):
That old rogue Lord Boothby seemed intelligent and curiously appealing. Adam Faith, then 20, handled himself brilliantly, while Simone Signoret was a bore. We marveled that such a repellent human being as Evelyn Waugh could have written the best English novels of the past century. Gilbert Harding, supposedly a monster, appeared movingly vulnerable. A BBC spokesman with whom I discussed the programmes said the only subject for whom John Freeman [the interviewer] formed a violent dislike was Martin Luther King.
The Waugh interview is available on YouTube.
While Hastings may consider Waugh repellent, that assessment must be based on evidence other than his performance in this interview. Waugh holds his own very well against Freeman, the often aggressive interviewer. Freeman was a Labour politician at the time he joined the BBC. Waugh had written his school friend, Tom Driberg, also a Labour politician (and journalist), in advance of the interview, asking if he knew “anything damaging about [Freeman] that I can introduce into our conversation if he should become insolent” (Letters, p. 544). Driberg’s response, so far as I am aware, is unrecorded, but based on Waugh’s performance, it doesn’t appear that he needed any outside help.
Freeman’s own comments on the interview are contained in a written introduction to the DVD set by Hugh Burnett, producer of the TV series:
Waugh was very difficult, he was very uptight, I think he disliked me, and whether he did or not, he was very nervous…I’m disappointed that I didn’t succeed in getting more out of him, because of all the people on the list of Face to Faces, he is the one I think I hold in most honour.
Thanks to Gwyn Price-Evans for bringing this article to our attention.