Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Booker: The man on the other end of the telephone

I am saddened to learn that Christopher Booker has lost his battle with cancer. A man who surely lived up to the legend painted in respective obituaries written today. His works will remain relevant for many years to come, not least City of Towers, a two hour documentary made by Christopher Booker for the BBC, first broadcast in 1979 (the year of my birth) - said to be a masterclass in the history of Modernism.

It is in an odd way that he has impacted my life in that for many years he was only really known to me as "Booker" - the man on the other end of the telephone. My father's writing relationship with Booker goes back decades - when I was still in school. There was a ritual daytime phone call and an evening call, usually around 11pm, every day without fail. Much of the family schedule was geared around it - even at Christmas. Long before the days of email, of course.

When the two conversed it was impossible not to overhear the conversation at our end as Dad would often deliver one his (loud) technical lectures on how the EU worked - and so much of my political education came from listening in, where my euroscepticism developed through osmosis. The only real world manifestation of "Booker" we ever encountered was the occasional delivery of a box of books written by Booker and North.

It was some years before I actually met Christopher. I found him aloof and a touch condescending, but there's no doubt he was a charming gentleman. Hard not to like. But whatever my view, there is no escaping that he was a loyal friend to my father, in a business where loyalty seldom exists. Many from that world have cosied up to my father because they knew what they could learn from him would give them the edge. Booker was not the only famous journalist to make regular phone calls to the house.

As a rule they came and went, taking what they could, often forgetting to credit their source, which is the sort of conduct I have come to expect from that corner of the media. I know my dad has invested countless hours in bringing journalists and politicians up to speed only to have them turn on him. Not so Booker, who could have taken the socially convenient route of disavowing him when pressured to do so.

That relationship is known to have created friction with his Telegraph editors who would have preferred it were one Richard North not in the picture. Booker's criticisms of the ERG and their suicidal WTO option fantasies saw his column pruned and relegated to the back pages. A lesser man might have put their career and financial interests first. By that quality alone I think well of him.

Unlike the late Helen Szamuely, another of my fathers partners in crime, I regrettably did not develop much of a relationship with Booker, speaking with him only when I occasionally answered the telephone. I doubt he'd even recognise me in the street. I can't really speak to his personality or elaborate much on what is already in the public domain. But what I can think him for is his loyalty to my father and his friendship - which has meant a great deal to our family. In one way or another, he has always been close by and an important feature of our lives.

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