There are many reasons to keep a diary: to mitigate loneliness; for introspective self-abasement; as an aide-mémoire; as a historical record of interesting times or places; as a safety valve when exasperated; as a repository of doubtful gossip; to drop names; as a money-spinner in old age; and as a way to perfect an artful myth-image of one’s character and accomplishments. Sir Roy Strong is too self-sufficient to feel lonely, and prefers preening to self-abasement, but otherwise this second instalment of his diaries meets the remaining criteria. It is in the mould of Chips Channon’s gossipy history of his times, of Frances Partridge’s records of her special milieu, and of Anthony Powell’s device to have the money to pay plumbers to mend burst pipes. Above all, Strong’s diaries are an exercise in ‘life-illusion’, to use John Cowper Powys’s coinage: ‘that secret dramatic way of regarding himself which makes [a man] feel to himself a remarkable, singular, unusual, exciting individual’.
The days of Strong’s directorships of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum are past when this second volume of diaries opens. He is a consultant in the building of Canary Wharf, a television presenter and a prolific writer on the arts and on gardens.