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Sir William Robert Ferdinand Mount, 3rd Baronet (born 2 July 1939), known simply as Ferdinand Mount, is a British writer and novelist, columnist for The Sunday Times and commentator on politics, and Conservative Party politician. He was head of the policy unit in 10 Downing Street in 1982-83, during the time when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and wrote the 1983 Tory general election manifesto. He is regarded as being on the One Nation or 'wet' wing of the party.
He succeeded his uncle as 3rd Baronet in 1993, but does not use the title. He is a cousin of the Conservative Party leader David Cameron, whose maternal grandfather was Sir William Mount, 2nd Baronet, the uncle whom he succeeded in the Baronetcy.
He has written novels, including a six-volume novel sequence Chronicle of Modern Twilight centred on a low-key character Gus Cotton; the title alludes to the sequence A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight by Henry Williamson, and another sequence entitled Tales of History and Imagination.
- Very Like a Whale (1967), novel
- The Theatre of Politics (1972), novel
- The Man Who Rode Ampersand (1975), novel, (Chronicle of Modern Twilight - 1)
- The Clique (1978), novel
- The Subversive Family: An Alternative History of Love and Marriage (1982)
- The Practice of Liberty (1986), novel
- The Selkirk Strip (1987), novel, (Chronicle of Modern Twilight - 2)
- Of Love and Asthma (1991), novel, (Chronicle of Modern Twilight - 3), Winner of the Hawthornden Prize 1992
- Communism (1992), editor
- The British Constitution Now: Recovery or Decline? (1992)
- The Recovery of the Constitution (Sovereignty Lectures) (1992)
- Umbrella: A Pacific Tale (1994), novel, (Tales of History and Imagination - 1)
- The Liquidator (1995), novel, (Chronicle of Modern Twilight - 4)
- Jem (and Sam): A Revenger's Tale (1999), novel, (Tales of History and Imagination - 2)
- Fairness (2001), novel, (Chronicle of Modern Twilight - 5)
- Mind the Gap: Class in Britain Now (2004)
- Heads You Win (2004), novel, (Chronicle of Modern Twilight - 6)
- Private Life 21st Century (2006)
- The Condor's Head (2007), novel
Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes
By Ferdinand Mount
An invitation to the dance
May 1st 2008
From The Economist print edition
NOT everyone will approve of Ferdinand Mount's beautifully written, poignant and, at times, extremely funny memoir. Some will be irritated by the author's indefatigable name-dropping, others by his over-insistent self-deprecation. Both will be missing the point.
Mr Mount (although a baronet, he eschews the use of his title) describes himself at different points in his life as idle, supercilious, incompetent and emotionally retarded. Any advancement is the consequence of luck or patronage rather than effort or talent on his part. Yet he won a scholarship to Eton, achieved success in journalism both as a political columnist and editor of the Times Literary Supplement, headed Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street policy unit and is the author of several well-received novels.
He is, however, less interested in talking about himself than in describing the extraordinary people who have come his way in various settings from his childhood in Wiltshire in the period after the second world war through to Chelsea in the 1960s and, finally, the heart of government in the 1980s. Mr Mount is aided in this by family connections which provide a seemingly endless supply of interesting relations and their famous chums.
His mother, Lady Julia, is a Pakenham, the aristocratic family whose tentacles extend equally vigorously into the world of the arts. One of her sisters marries Henry Lamb (a painter friend of Augustus John), and another becomes the wife of Anthony Powell. Julia's brother, Frank, the seventh Earl of Longford, goes on to become a Labour leader of the House of Lords and celebrity prison visitor. During a dull weekend with friends near the Solent, Frank suddenly perks up—he can pop off to see Reggie Kray, a famous gangland murderer, in nearby Parkhurst jail. While on holiday at Tullynally Castle, the Pakenhams' ancestral home in Ireland, Mr Mount meets Sir Oswald Mosley; over a pint in a bar the old fascist reminisces loudly about the good old days, to nobody's great embarrassment.
The background of Mr Mount's father, Robin, is less distinguished but just as colourful. A gentleman steeplechaser who belongs to what his son calls “Hobohemia”, a “raffish subdivision of the upper class”, his principal hang-out is David Tennant's notorious Gargoyle Club in Soho, also a haunt of Dylan Thomas.
Although neither of Mr Mount's parents has any money, the idea of getting a job never occurs to them. Perhaps because he is poorer than almost everyone he knows, Mr Mount casts himself from an early age more as an observer than as a protagonist. It is difficult not to see him as Nicholas Jenkins, the placid narrator of Uncle Anthony's series of 12 novels, “A Dance to the Music of Time”. In it, characters come, go and then return later, often much changed for better or worse by fate and the passage of time. So too is it in “Cold Cream” (Mr Mount's mother, who died of cancer at the age of 42, was a generous user of the famous démaquillant made by Pond's that epitomised a certain kind of steadfast and fearless mid-20th-century English womanhood).
Students of political, as opposed to social, history, will be most interested by Mr Mount's account of his stint at Number 10 with Mrs Thatcher in her prime. He was there during the early 1980s, a period that encompassed the Falklands war and a second general election victory during which “Thatcherism” became a fully formed, albeit oddly inconsistent, ideology. Slightly to his own surprise, the posh, effete Mr Mount is thrilled by the prime minister's suburban certainties and high moral seriousness in combating the sophisticated pessimists who believed it was the job of government to manage the country's inexorable decline.
The author's insights into Mrs Thatcher's working methods and the strange clique of zealots who provided her with the intellectual confidence to change Britain are fascinating. However, what lingers most vividly in the memory is his affectionate, gently mocking and frequently moving evocation in the first third of the book of a period and a society that, though not long gone, seems now to be from an entirely different age.