At the end of his official biography of Lord Mountbatten 25 years ago, Philip Ziegler wrote: 'There was a time when I became so enraged by what I began to feel was his determination to hoodwink me that I found it necessary to place on my desk a notice saying: REMEMBER, IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING, HE WAS A GREAT MAN.' At the end of his authorised biography of Edward Heath, Ziegler writes: 'He was a great man, but his blemishes, though far less considerable, were quite as conspicuous as his virtues, and it is too often by his blemishes that he is remembered.' In the case of Mountbatten, we were to understand, it was the charm, the deviousness, the sexual vanity, the manipulation of people and the rewriting of history that were in danger of blinding us to the genuine achievements. Heath's traits were almost the direct opposite: charmlessness, rudeness, sexual neutrality, rancour, an excess of candour and an unwillingness to budge. But these too we are to forgive, or at least put to one side, and see beyond to the solid body of achievement. The trouble is that in both cases Ziegler's relentless accumulation and presentation of the evidence diminish that achievement to near-invisible proportions. Mountbatten smashed up almost every ship he skippered, and as a strategic commander his ingenious schemes vanished into the air with alarming rapidity. And Heath?
LRB 22 July 2010 | PDF Download