Strange People I Have Known… and Other Stories by Andy McSmith - review by Jerry Hayes

Jerry Hayes

Man in the Mirror

Strange People I Have Known… and Other Stories


Biteback 400pp £25

This is not just a beautifully written book. It is also creaking at the seams with anecdotes about the good, the bad and the downright ugly who run our country. It is an unvarnished account of how politics and journalism can be a sewer of hypocrisy, with both sides fighting for headlines and where the truth is an optional extra. And yes, Peter Mandelson and Boris Johnson do get a shout out or two.

A man of the Left, Andy McSmith has run a socialist bookshop, been employed by the megalomaniacs Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black, and worked for the Labour Party, the Daily Mirror, The Independent and The Observer. The poignant opening sentence sets the scene: ‘As the past is another country, I am a foreign visitor in today.’ There are some delightfully acidic and revealing portraits of long-dead politicians. Enoch Powell was ‘distant, like an oracle. He had a face like a sloping bank of hard, grey and unsightly gravel, and the body language of a ventriloquist’s dummy, as if his mind did not belong in something so mundane as a human body. He gave the impression of someone who had never known a moment’s joy.’ McSmith also hits the spot with his sketch of Edward Heath, who ‘valued women, when they were cooking, keeping house or otherwise making him comfortable. What he found intolerable was that a woman could be in charge of the Conservative Party.’

There are some wonderful vignettes of lobby journalists in the 1970s and 1980s, in particular the much-respected Gordon Greig of the Daily Mail, who was fearless in questioning political big beasts. He asked Margaret Thatcher when she was leader of the opposition, ‘How can you lead the Conservative

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