The reaction to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the story of lecherous MPs reminds me of Casablanca. In a terrific scene, Humphrey Bogart asks why Claude Rains’s Captain Renault is closing down Rick’s Café.
Captain Renault says, “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” At this point, a croupier hands Renault a thick wedge of notes, saying: “Your winnings, sir.”
The same goes for rapacious Hollywood producers pouncing on the talent. I’m shocked! Shocked!
And MPs behaving inappropriately with their secretaries and researchers. Shocked! Shocked!
I used to go to party conferences regularly when I was a leader-writer at the Daily Telegraph. They were a Petri dish for studying the behaviour of the lunging male. Take several hundred deeply ambitious, vain, middle-aged men; simmer in an ocean of warm white wine; add in several hundred younger women, whose jobs often depend on the older men; provide hotel rooms in close proximity. Repeat for several weeks at different seaside locations – and, voilà, a certain proportion of the men will behave appallingly.
You can concoct an even more lethal version of the same cocktail in Hollywood – where the men are much richer and more powerful; and the number of beautiful, young women are in an even greater proportion.
So why are we so shocked when all this scandal starts emerging? Because of the power of anecdote and detail. We knew all this was going on as a general phenomenon – but we weren’t getting much of the detail, thanks to the fear of libel suits from the gropers.
Now that fear has been removed by a change in the climate, the dam has been breached. And, my goodness, the details are gripping, however salacious they are – well, let’s be honest, precisely because they’re so salacious.
And, as for Kevin Spacey coming out as gay, I’m shocked! Shocked!
We all know about Richard III in the car park. But what about the royal palace in the car park?
That’s what I came across last week, as I was leading a group of students around the Duchy of Cornwall’s estate in Kennington, south London.
The duchy has owned much of the ancient manor of Kennington ever since Edward III gave it to his oldest son, the Black Prince (and the first Duke of Cornwall), in 1337. The Black Prince built a vast palace in Kennington in the 1350s, with a huge hall, grand bedrooms, a chapel and stables. A couple of centuries later, silly old Henry VIII tore it apart and looted it to build Whitehall Palace.
The palace’s foundations are still there – under a car park and some 1960s duchy housing. It was when that housing was built that the foundations of the palace were momentarily revealed to the world, before being concealed again.
The Prince of Wales is a great fan of historic buildings. Surely he wouldn’t mind getting out a digger in his old manor and giving us a glimpse of the Black Prince’s lost palace?
At the weekend, I went to a talk at the Wallace Collection by Hilary Spurling on her masterly new biography of Anthony Powell, Dancing to the Music of Time – currently Book of the Week on Radio 4.
I must declare an interest. Powell was my great-uncle and I am a trustee of the Anthony Powell Society. Before the lecture, I was given a new book, Anthony Powell on Wine, by its editor, and another trustee, Robin Bynoe. At the lecture, I showed the book to Grey Gowrie, the former minister for the arts, who had been a friend of Powell’s.
“I must consult my solicitors,” he said, jokingly.
He was referring to an Anthony Powell wine incident that appeared in Powell’s journals – that Grey thought might appear in the new book (but doesn’t).
At Powell’s 80th birthday at his Somerset home, he was given a bottle of Latour ’77 by Roy Jenkins.
As Powell related in his journals, “Roy said he would put [the bottle] in a special place of his own in the kitchen…
“In the course of supper, Grey Gowrie remarked … how outstandingly good the Latour was… It now turns out that Grey (on his part, perhaps also characteristic of a politician) had somehow got hold of Jenkins’s Latour ’77 (hidden in Roy’s secret place).”
In fact, it turns out, as Grey told me, that he had just sat down and been served the delicious wine, without any choice in the matter.
In other words, it had all been the fault of the server. I thought back to the 80th birthday party, which I, then a 14-year-old schoolboy, had attended. One of my jobs was to help serve the wine. I fear I was the culprit.
Harry Mount is editor of the Oldie Magazine
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.