Various people — well, the religious affairs journalists Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Damian Thompson, and Ruth Gledhill — have complained about my column this week in the Church Times on the grounds that what I wrote about Chris Morgan was “despicable” (Damian), “totally distasteful … incredibly low” (Jonathan W-J); “I would hate to have Brown’s conscience at the moment, if such a thing exists” writes Ruth, who also refers to my “peculiarly dark and embittered take on the world”. None of these good people can actually share with their readers the full horror of what I wrote, because it’s behind a paywall. So I am putting it under the fold for connoisseurs of the dark and embittered.
UPDATE: the revulsion seems now rather less widespread: Ruth has taken down her remarks. Perhaps the lawyers had a fit. I don’t care (goes with not having a conscience), but some of the things she said about the Church Times might have upset any lawyer. Damian has reprinted some of her remarks about me in his own comments, and adds that my dark and embittered character stems from the lack of any recognition of my role as a public intellectual. I will pass his diagnosis on to Lambeth Palace for appropriate remedy.
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CHRISTOPHER MORGAN, who killed himself last week after a prolonged depression, had been a good journalist of a rather old-fashioned sort, at the BBC in Wales and elsewhere. He was a very good presenter of the Sunday programme in the early ’90s.
His great mistake, I think, was moving to The Sunday Times, where he was expected to come up with scoops on the most tenuous basis. The paper, then as now, didn’t much care whether what it printed about the Church of England was true, so long as it was exciting. His downfall was to apply the same standards of evidence to stories about the Royal Family. A story in 2000 claiming that Charles and Camilla would marry in Scotland so infuriated the royal household that he was sacked.
He continued to write for the paper, but on a basis of increasing desperation. He had been an old and close friend of Rowan Williams, and had campaigned to get him to Canterbury; but it is impossible to be a true friend of the people you write about, when your career and happiness depends on printing stories that they do not want to see published.
The last really big story he had from those circles was the revelation that one of Rowan’s Welsh priests, the Revd Martin Reynolds, at the time a friend of both men, was about to become the first gay man in Wales to adopt a child. The publicity was damaging to everyone involved. In the long run, it didn’t even do Chris any good: to acquire a reputation as someone who will sell out old friends for a story does not help you get new ones. But, from his perspective, what else could he have done? He was under tremendous pressure to produce, and the story was true.
Chris cared a great deal for the forms of things, and the maintenance of appearances. He had an old-fashioned regard for the dignity of lunch. He must have eaten in every first-class restaurant in London: not just the Savoy and other obviously prestigious places, but Gordon Ramsay, and the River Café continued to be his haunts. The last time we met, he bought me lunch at the River Café. I wondered how he could still afford it, but he waved away any offers of help.
For a man so gregarious and indiscreet about others, he was extraordinarily private. I found this removed much of the pleasure I might have had from his company. He was intelligent and kindly, and very well informed, but I could never shake off the feeling that he wasn’t there. Beyond the sense – implicit in any political conversation – that important truths are being withheld, I had with Chris a sense that something unsayable occupied his deeper thoughts: that, under all the gossip, he knew something he could not begin to communicate. But perhaps this, too, is an illusion, brought on by the fact that any suicide feels like a communication to us who are left behind.