Lord Heseltine and Lady Biffin There was a Macbeth moment at the launch of The Hugo Young Papers on Tuesday evening - the inaugural event at Guardian News & Media's grand new offices in King's Cross - when someone managed to decant a glass of red wine on to the cream carpet. No matter that, as Dotti Irving noted, the resultant 'damned spot' look rather like a map of Britain, it must have made Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger wish they'd served only white wine or champagne, as the British Library used to do in an attempt to keep the marble pristine. And this before the journalists have even moved in! The King's Cross office in which everyone was gathered had been 'but a twinkle in Hugo Young's eye', Rusbridger said, as he introduced the vast tome, edited by Ion Trewin, who knew Young back when they were both at Times Newspapers in the days of Thomson ownership. The building now houses the vast archive that is the Hugo Young Papers - who knows how many words, as Trewin wondered: a million, one-and-a-half million, perhaps more - available for scholars wishing to share in the ringside seat in history offered by the late journalist's meticulous note-taking.
'Reporting is the heart of commentary,' continued Trewin. Young's book was 'an exciting and important piece of history, an amazing contemporary record.' And unlike the diaries of Alan Clark, which Trewin of course published, 'they contain very little gossip'.
What's extraordinary, given that Young took no notes and did not use a recorder, was that few if any of the politicos who were sent Young's account of meetings cavilled with the content. Many were pleased by their (reported) perspicacity of thought and speech. However, New Yorker theatre critic John Lahr, a friend of Young's widow Lucy, was sceptical about such a method, suggesting that, however good your memory, what you recalled and wrote down after the event was an impression, a paraphrase of the conversation. 'It raises some interesting questions,' he told BookBrunch. 'It's really faction.'
Lucy Young herself spoke poignantly about her late husband, and 'the unique gyroscope that was his moral and intellectual core'. And she recalled that in the last weeks and days of his life, when speech was difficult and he could manage few complete sentences, he told her: 'I'm going on a long journey now over a short distance. I won't be far away from you.'
Among the old friends present to raise a glass were the book's publisher at Allen Lane, Stuart Proffitt - whom Rusbridger noted 'kept all of us at our lasts' - journalists Brian MacArthur, Dominic Lawson and Simon Hoggart, and politicians Charles Clarke, Michael Heseltine and David Owen, the last sporting an orange sweater, which made him look like a Liberal Democrat. 'Let me tell you, I was never a Liberal Democrat,' he responded with a twinkle - an admission that would surprise no one.