This caught my eye in a recent issue of The New Statesman, which I was reading while killing time in the Seattle Public Library:
Bizarrely, Harry Eyres blames the late Alexander Chancellor for tolerating the seeds of the Alt Right during his time as Spectator editor in the 1960s. The chief sin seems to be bringing Taki aboard and then permitting him to turn his “High Life” column, initially a frothy account of jet-setter doings, into a vector of venom and bigotry. But Chancellor was long gone by the time Taki’s column started getting really interesting and opinionated, c. 1980.
And while it is true that the column eventually spun off the online magazine takimag.com, it is pleading to the ignorant to state that Taki’s Magazine can be considered the second biggest mouthpiece of the Alt Right. Unsurprisingly, Eyres believes Breitbart News is mouthpiece number one.
I briefly met Alex Chancellor in August 1996. We were in the office of Peter McKay, editor of Punch. The new Punch; the old one had gone out of business a few years before. Now Mohammed al-Fayed, Egyptian tycoon and owner of Harrod’s across the way, was funding a relaunch. When Punch died in the early 90s, al-Fayed bought the remaining assets: its archive and its name. Richard Ingrams meanwhile acquired the mailing list, which consisted mainly of old people, which supposedly is why Punch died. Ingrams’s idea was to create a humor magazine for old folks. This became The Oldie, which Ingrams edited for many years till finally Alex Chancellor took the reins.
When buying the Punch name, Mohammed al-Fayed may not have planned to do anything with it at the time. I gather he bought it the way he bought Harrod’s. It was a big name, and it stood for England. But now here we were in Liberty House, eagerly proposing outré and iconoclastic articles to editor McKay, sometime Daily Mail writer and, according to Private Eye, the World’s Worst Columnist. Thanks to the al-Fayed largesse, the new Punch was to be a glossy weekly, and would pay you £600 per printed page. Just to put things in perspective, Spectator paid contributors about £100. No surprise that Speccie writers were all flocking to McKay’s office.
Chancellor didn’t look anything like the picture here, which is him in 1964. Twenty-eight years later he was grey, bespectacled, somewhat convex in front. It was summer but he was wearing a light grey pullover. I remember making small talk about how the NBC anchorman John Chancellor always pronounced his name Chancel-LOR. Alex said yes, he was aware of that. He’d met John Chancellor once. They were supposed to be distant cousins.
When he became editor of The Oldie I dropped him a note by e-mail, noting the existence of a new wine-appreciation website called “Punch.” I got a response in acknowledgement, but I don’t think he remembered me at all. He was fast fading, I suppose.