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Whispering Gallery - Hesketh Pearson

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Paperback: 288 pages / Publisher: W&N / New Edition: 17 Aug 2000

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      31.01.2013 16:40
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      An enjoyable examination of the powerful in the early 20th century

      Whispering Gallery: leaves from a Diplomats diary is an infamous hoax written in 1926 by then jobbing actor Hesketh Pearson, it is supposed to be a real diary written by an influencial British diplomat. The book sets out to give supposed diplomats views on the great and powerful of England, Europe and America of the early 20th century, the book is supposed to be the immediate diary entry of a man who mixed in these circles and who later that night would write a diary about his actions that day. The book was cited at the time as being libellous against certain newspaper owners but the author won the case.

      I was given this book a long time ago but have only just got around to reading the book; it is split into chapters in which the real life characters we are supposed to have met during our career are loosely put together. So we have the dictators, the writers, ladies of influence, empire builders, kings and emperors (this chapter is called the Caesars) and others. The writing is light and enjoyable and the book has the feel of a modern parody except the writer is talking about Kaiser Wilhelm, President Wilson, HG Wells rather than Angela Merkel, President Obama and Stephenie Meyer. The writing is light but can be scathing, the supposed flaws in the characters of the famous people are laid bare as though the writer truly had had an intimate meeting with them or knew them well socially.

      I enjoyed the sections of the book where I'd heard of the real person, so chapters on Mark Twain or Nicolas II or Edward VII had a tendency to race through but chapters on people like Alfred Balfour or Lord NorthCliffe rather dragged. Saying that though the depiction of Lord NorthCliffe as a powerful media baron who wanted to control people's views through owning all the papers did have echoes in a certain famous American/Australian owner of the Sun and previously the NOTW.

      I guess that was the true joy of the book; there are clearly people around now who this book could just have easily been about so the character of the media savvy ex-PM who knew how to influence people through charisma such as Lloyd George reminds you of anyone else? Or the intellectual American president who no-one fully trusts but was good at making speeches and had an eye for the ladies?

      So still a fun read nearly 90 years after it was first released and the biggest surprise is that it is a parody and not a real set of diary entry by some English diplomat and not by all accounts an out of work actor who had never met any of the real people and he'd made it all up!

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