High Life

Sympathy for the Murdochs

July 20, 2011

Multiple Pages
Sympathy for the Murdochs

ONBOARD S/Y BUSHIDO OFF CORFU—From my porthole I can see Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor talking to his three blonde and beautiful daughters. The eldest, Rory, has just become a doctor, the other two are still kids, and there are also two very talented boys not onboard his boat Tiger Lily. One of his sons is an extremely talented drummer, which I guess goes with the territory. Rock stars do not make for typical loving families, but Roger’s seems to be an exception. Speaking of rockers’ families, I was pleased about that turd Charlie Gilmour getting 16 months. I would only have been more pleased if his sentence had been longer. I would have given him 24 months and an extra six for having cut his hair and playing it as a victim. He’s nothing of the sort, and he knew damn well what the Cenotaph is all about, and in any other civilized country he would have received a harsher sentence.

Back in 1959, a drunken American student tried to light his cigarette from the eternal flame underneath L’Arc de Triomphe and got a year in a tough jail and a fine that broke his parents. That was then, this is now, and Charlie has had too many hacks asking for mercy, which means the fix is in.

“I know it sounds phony, but I actually feel sorry for the Murdochs.”

Speaking of the fix, I predict Murdoch will get off and will be allowed to purchase Sky, and everything will be hunky-dory once it blows over. Back in 1994, Sue Douglas and John Witherow hired me to write the “Atticus” column for the Sunday Times. Witherow proposed 80K. “I get 80 from the Speccie,” I told them. “Cut the crap,” said Sue, “the Spectator doesn’t pay you 80,000 pounds per annum.” The penny dropped and all I said was, “Where’s the contract? I’ll sign anything.”

The funny thing was that a week later at a New York party, the great Rupert himself came up to me and told me how happy he was “that you were joining our family.” I was flattered until I heard him say to his wife Anna, whom I was seated next to at dinner, to be very careful about what she said in front of me. Couple of years later, at a New York bash, Rupert approached me and asked me to “stir it up a bit”—namely, to go after Mort Zuckerman, owner of the New York Daily News, direct competitor to Rupert’s New York Post. Which I did, until I was told that Rupert had ordered the then-editor of the Post—I also had a column there—never to allow me to attack Zuckerman. Go figure!

Strange people, these Murdochs. They’re neither Brits nor Aussies—not even Yanks. What was it they used to call Jews? Cosmopolites? My buddy Leopold Bismarck was staying onboard with his beautiful wife Debonnaire, and he slipped me a Somerset Maugham short story, “The Alien Corn,” while I was recovering on deck from a very hard night ashore. I had never read it, and as they say in Hollywood, it blew my mind.

In “The Alien Corn,” Ferdy Rabenstein is a dandy, invited to all the grand parties, a lover of a grand duchess, popular and sought-after by grand people because of his wit, money, and great taste. He does not hide his Jewishness. In fact, he is known for his ability to tell the best Jewish jokes in the most perfect accent. The narrator eventually meets his family, one that has been ennobled after having changed their name from Bleikogel to a more suitably goyish Bland and having acquired a grand country house. Viscount Bland is an MP, his wife Muriel claims to have been brought up in a convent, and their two sons are the most perfect English upper-class gents one can imagine. I will not spoil it for you, but it’s such a good story, it made me look back at my past forty years in England and reflect.

The Bland son, the one that looks English and is adored by his parents, does not want to shoot, he does not want to hunt, he does not want to be an MP, and he does not want to be a millionaire. He does not want to be a baronet nor a peer. Here he is speaking to the narrator once he’s broken away and gone to Munich to study music:

You know, I don’t like the English people. I never really know where I am with you. You’re so dull and conventional. You never let yourselves go. There is no freedom of the soul, and you’re such funks. There’s nothing in the world you’re so frightened of as doing the wrong thing. I don’t want to be English. I want to be a Jew. I am a Jew and you know it, and a German Jew in the bargain. You don’t know how much more easy I feel with them….

The story ends tragically, but the beauty is that Maugham knows all about life and people. It was obviously written between the wars—hence George’s love for Germany and his people—but when I finished it I thought of the Murdochs—wandering cosmopolites seeking power and wealth—and of the Blands frightened of doing the wrong thing, and of George wanting to be Jewish. I once knew a family just like the Blands, and they’re still with us, and how sorry I felt for them once I read “The Alien Corn.” I know it sounds phony, but I actually feel sorry for the Murdochs.


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