Malcolm Muggeridge
taking part in a BBC TV discussion programme
Born (1903-03-24)24 March 1903
Sanderstead, South Croydon, England
Died 14 November 1990(1990-11-14) (aged 87)
Robertsbridge, East Sussex, England
Nationality British
Occupation Journalist, author, satirist
Religion Roman Catholic

Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (24 March 1903 – 14 November 1990[1]) was an English journalist, author, media personality, and satirist. During World War II, he was a soldier and a spy. He is credited with popularising Mother Teresa and in his later years became a Catholic and morals campaigner.

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Muggeridge's father, Henry (known as H. T. Muggeridge), served as a prominent Labour Party councillor in the local government of Croydon, South London, as a founder-member of the Fabian Society,[2] and as a Labour Member of Parliament for Romford (1929–1931, during Ramsay MacDonald's second Labour government). His mother was Annie Booler.

One of five brothers, Muggeridge was born in Sanderstead, Surrey and grew up in Croydon and attended Selhurst High School there, and then Selwyn College, Cambridge, for four years, graduating in 1924 with a pass degree in natural sciences. He then went to India to teach. While still a student he had taught for brief periods in 1920, 1922 and 1924 at the John Ruskin Central School, Croydon, where his father was Chairman of the Governors.

Returning to England in 1927, he married Katherine "Kitty" Dobbs (1903–1994), the daughter of Rosalind Dobbs (a younger sister of Beatrice Webb). He worked as a supply teacher before moving to teach in Egypt six months later. Here he met Arthur Ransome, who was visiting Egypt as a journalist for the Manchester Guardian. Ransome recommended Muggeridge to the editors of the Guardian, who gave him his first job in journalism.

Moscow[edit | edit source]

Initially attracted by Communism, Muggeridge and his wife travelled to Moscow in 1932, where he was to be a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, standing in for William Chamberlin, who was about to take leave of absence. During Muggeridge's early time in Moscow, his main journalistic concentration was writing a novel, Picture Palace, about his experiences at the Manchester Guardian, which was completed and submitted to publishers in January 1933. The publishers were concerned with potential libel claims and the book was not published, causing financial difficulties for Muggeridge, who was not employed at the time, being paid only for articles he could get accepted. Increasingly disillusioned by communism, Muggeridge decided to investigate reports of the famine in Ukraine, travelling there and to the Caucasus without the permission of the Soviet authorities. Reports he sent back to the Manchester Guardian in the diplomatic bag, thus evading censorship, were not fully printed and were not published under Muggeridge's name. At the same time, rival journalist Gareth Jones, who had met Muggeridge in Moscow, published his own stories confirming the extent of the famine. Writing in the New York Times, Walter Duranty denied the existence of any famine.[3] Gareth Jones wrote letters to the Manchester Guardian in support of Muggeridge's articles about the famine.

Having come into conflict with the paper's editorial policy, Muggeridge turned back to novel writing, starting Winter in Moscow (1934), describing conditions in the "socialist utopia" and satirising Western journalists' uncritical view of Joseph Stalin's regime. He was later to call Duranty "the greatest liar I have met in journalism". Later, he began a writing partnership with Hugh Kingsmill. Muggeridge's politics changed from an independent socialist point of view to a right-wing religious stance that was no less critical of society. He later stated:

I wrote in a mood of anger, which I find rather absurd now: not so much because the anger was, in itself, unjustified, as because getting angry about human affairs is as ridiculous as losing one's temper when an air flight is delayed.[4]

In November 2008, on the 75th anniversary of the Ukraine famine, both Muggeridge and Jones were posthumously awarded the Ukrainian Order of Freedom to mark their exceptional services to the country and its people.[5]

World War II[edit | edit source]

When war was declared, Muggeridge went to Maidstone to join up but was sent away at this point – "My generation felt they'd missed the First War, now was the time to make up."[6] He was called into the Ministry of Information, which he called "a most appalling set-up", and then joined the army as a private. He joined the Corps of Military Police and was commissioned on the General List in May 1940. He transferred to the Intelligence Corps as a Lieutenant in June 1942. Having spent two years as a Regimental Intelligence Officer in England, by 1942 he was in MI6, and had been posted to Lourenço Marques as a bogus vice-consul (called a Special Correspondent by London Controlling Section).[7]

His mission was to prevent information about Allied convoys off the coast of Africa falling into enemy hands[8] – he wrote later also of a suicide attempt at this time. After the Allied occupation of North Africa he was posted to Algiers as liaison officer with the French sécurité militaire. In this capacity he was sent to Paris at the time of the liberation, working alongside Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces. He had a high regard for de Gaulle, and considered him a greater man than Churchill. [9] He was warned to expect some anti-British feeling in Paris because of the attack on Mers-el-Kébir. In fact Muggeridge (speaking on the BBC retrospective programme Muggeridge: Ancient & Modern) said that he encountered no such feeling – indeed he had been allowed, on occasion, to eat and drink for nothing at Maxim's. He was assigned to make an initial investigation into P. G. Wodehouse's five broadcasts from Berlin during the war. Though he was prepared to dislike Wodehouse, the interview became the start of a lifelong friendship and publishing relationship. It was also during this period that he interviewed Coco Chanel in Paris, about the nature of her involvement with the Nazis in Vichy France during the war.[10] Muggeridge ended the war as a Captain.

Post-war period[edit | edit source]

Muggeridge worked on other newspapers, including the Calcutta Statesman, Evening Standard, and Daily Telegraph. He was editor of Punch magazine from 1953 to 1957, a challenging appointment for one who claimed to have no sense of humour. One of his first acts was to sack the illustrator E. H. Shepherd.[11] In 1957 he received public and professional opprobrium for criticism of the British monarchy in a U.S. magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. Given the title "Does England Really Need a Queen?", its publication was delayed by five months to coincide with the Royal State Visit to Washington, D.C. taking place later in the year. While the article was little more than a rehash of views expressed in a 1955 article "Royal Soap Opera", its timing caused outrage back in Britain, and he was sacked for a short period from the BBC, and a contract with Beaverbrook newspapers was cancelled. His notoriety propelled him into becoming a better-known broadcaster with a reputation as a tough interviewer.

By the 1960s, his spiritual beliefs began to become more significant in his professional career. He became a figure of some ridicule and satire as he took to frequently denouncing the new sexual laxity of the swinging sixties on radio and television. He particularly railed against "Pills and Pot" – birth control pills and cannabis. He was contemptuous of fellow countrymen the Beatles. In a 1968 article in Esquire magazine, he called them "four vacant youths... dummy figures with tousled heads (and) no talent."

His 1966 book Tread softly for you tread on my jokes was published during this time and, though acerbic in its wit, revealed a serious view of life. The title is an allusion to the last line of the poem He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven by William Butler Yeats – "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." In 1967, he preached at Great St Mary's, Cambridge, and again in 1970.

Having been elected rector of Edinburgh University, Muggeridge was goaded by the editor of The Student, Anna Coote, to support the call for contraceptive pills to be available at the University Health Centre. He used a sermon at St. Giles' Cathedral in January 1968, to resign the post in protest against the Student Representative Council's views on "pot and pills." This sermon was published under the title "Another King."

Muggeridge was also known for his wit and profound writings, often at odds with the prevailing opinions of the day: "Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream", he liked to quote. He wrote two volumes of an autobiography called Chronicles of Wasted Time (the title is a quotation[12] from Shakespeare's sonnet 106). The first volume (1972) was The Green Stick. The second volume (1973) was The Infernal Grove. A projected third volume The Right Eye covering the post-war period was never completed.

Conversion to Christianity[edit | edit source]

An agnostic for most of his life, he became a Christian, publishing Jesus Rediscovered in 1969, a collection of essays, articles and sermons on faith. It became a best seller. Jesus: The Man Who Lives followed in 1976, a more substantial work describing the gospel in his own words. In A Third Testament, he profiles seven spiritual thinkers, whom he called "God's Spies", who influenced his life: Augustine of Hippo, William Blake, Blaise Pascal, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Søren Kierkegaard. In this period he also produced several important BBC religious documentaries, including In the Footsteps of St. Paul.

His style was parodied in early live versions of the Pink Floyd track The Great Gig in the Sky, which featured snippets of his speeches, reordered as gibberish.[13] In 1979 he criticised John Cleese and Michael Palin during a television debate concerned with the perceived blasphemy of the film Life of Brian, despite having arrived late for the showing, thus missing the two scenes in which Jesus and Brian were shown as two separate people at the same time. The comedians expressed disappointment in Muggeridge, whom all in Monty Python had previously respected as a satirist. Cleese expressed that his reputation had "plummeted" in his eyes, while Palin commented that, "He was just being Muggeridge, preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all."

In 1982, aged 79, he joined the Catholic Church along with his wife Kitty. This was largely because of the influence of Mother Teresa. His last book Conversion, published in 1988 and recently republished, describes his life as a 20th century pilgrimage – a spiritual journey. Muggeridge was a controversial figure – known in earlier life as a drinker, heavy smoker, and womaniser, only to become later a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light of 1971, protesting against the commercial exploitation of sex and violence in Britain, and advocating the teaching of Christ as the key to recovering moral stability in the nation.

Literary Society[edit | edit source]

An eponymous Literary Society was established on 24 March 2003, the occasion of his centenary, and it publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Gargoyle.[14] The Malcolm Muggeridge Society, based in Britain, is progressively republishing Muggeridge's works. Muggeridge's papers are in the Special Collections at Wheaton College, Illinois.

Works[edit | edit source]

Books[edit | edit source]

Sermons[edit | edit source]

  • Ultimate concern. 'Am I a Christian?', etc., Cambridge, (1967)
  • Living water, Aberdeen, (1968), ISBN 0-7152-0016-X
  • Another King, St Andrews Press (1968)
  • Still I believe: nine talks broadcast during Lent and Holy Week, (1969), ISBN 0-563-08552-5
  • Light in our darkness, Edinburgh, (1969), ISBN 0-7152-0069-0
  • Fundamental questions : what is life about?, Cambridge, (1970)
  • America Needs a Punch, Esquire (April 1958), 59–60, 60

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Ingrams, Richard, Muggeridge: the biography, London: HarperCollins, 1995. ISBN 0-00-638467-6
  • Wolfe, Gregory, Malcolm Muggeridge: a biography, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995. ISBN 0-340-60674-6
  • Hunter, Ian, Malcolm Muggeridge: a life, London: Collins, 1980. ISBN 0-241-12048-9
  • Muggeridge, ancient & modern / edited by Christopher Ralling and Jane Bywaters; with drawings by Trog, London, BBC, 1981. ISBN 0-563-17905-8. This is a revised edition of Muggeridge through the microphone (1967).
  • Porter, David, A disciple of Christ: conversations with Malcolm Muggeridge, Basingstoke: Marshalls, 1983. ISBN 0-551-01059-2
  • Malcolm Muggeridge's Conversion Story
  • McCrum, Robert, Wodehouse, A Life, London, New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.
  • Kuhne, Cecil, Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith, San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58617-068-4
  • Flynn, Nicholas, Time and Eternity: Uncollected Writings 1933-1983, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010. ISBN 978-0-232-52808-4
  1. GRO Register of Births; Malcolm Muggeridge, My Life in Pictures.
  2. My Life in Pictures ISBN 0-906969-60-3
  3. BBC World Service "The Useful Idiots" [1]
  4. Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: Chronicle 1: The Green Stick, Quill, New York, 1982, p274.
  5. "Telling the truth about the Ukrainian famine". National Post (Canada). 22 November 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2008. [dead link]
  6. Muggeridge Ancient And Modern, BBC
  7. Thadeus Holt, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War, New York: Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007, p. 332.
  8. Muggeridge , Ancient & Modern BBCTV
  9. The Archive Hour, St Mugg, First broadcast BBC Radio 4, 19 April 2003
  10. [2]
  12. Nigel Rees, The Quote ... Unquote Book of Love, Death and the Universe, 1980, ISBN 0-04-827022-9
  13. Mabbett, Andy (2010). Pink Floyd - The Music and the Mystery. London: Omnibus,. ISBN 978-1-84938-370-7. 
  14. [3]
  15. Taken from How can you Bear to be Human published in the UK by Deutch

External links[edit | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

Preceded by
Colin Coote
Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph
Succeeded by
Ivor Bulmer-Thomas
Academic offices
Preceded by
James Robertson Justice
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Kenneth Allsop

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