Hugo Young was the pope of the chattering classes. From the 1960s until his cruelly early death from cancer five years ago he wrote with authority and an austere style first in The Sunday Times, then in The Guardian. He was a militant centrist, with a predisposition to the liberal left. He was a man of complete integrity who took his calling as a journalist exceptionally seriously: in that respect he was more a member of the earnest, American school of our trade than in the less reverential, bricks-through-windows mould that makes even the quality British press so entertaining. For thirty-five years he would come back from lunches with contacts, dinner parties or even chance encounters at cocktail parties and write a note of the conversations he had had. A selection of these notes has now been assembled, edited by Ion Trewin. They show little of the development of Young's thinking over that period, for what he was at the end was largely what he had been at the beginning. They are, though, an insightful commentary on British public life in that era, a reminder both of its interesting figures and of its bores and charlatans, and of just how pointless and silly certain great moments in politics seem even only a few years later.
Young was a superb reporter, and for the most part he fails to intrude his own views into the straight accounts he gives of these meetings. Over the period he displays a certain consistency in his choice of interlocutors, and it is only by subtly comparing the tone of what