Observer Review: Home Truths By Penny Junor Essay, Research Paper
The lion and the ratHome TruthsPenny JunorHarperCollins ?18.99, pp367Many years ago, I went on a press trip to New York. In the party were John Junor and David English. The first, who had been editor of the Sunday Express for 32 years, was a mischievous old hellraiser. The second, who was one of Junor’s bosses at the Mail on Sunday, where Junor was now spending the twilight of his career as a columnist, was charming and urbane.John Junor’s jealousy of the younger man was palpable. ‘The trouble with David English,’ he growled into my ear over drinks one night, ‘is that he’s deeply superficial.’ I now realise, from reading his daughter’s compelling life of her father, that I had only the faintest glimpses of the mood swings of a man who was a public lion and a domestic rat.When I began Home Truths, I had considerable doubts about the whole project. Surely some things are private and should be left that way. Dominic Carman was hammered in the press for revealing the private squalors of his father, the brilliant QC, George. But I was quickly won over.Penny Junor’s father and brother, among the people who would have been most wounded, are both dead, her mother is in a nursing home, and the book is an account, as much as anything else, of her own emotional journey to unravel her feelings about a man who both frightened and infuriated her.The result is an unfailingly readable mixture of biography and self-analysis, often anguished but punctuated by some very funny anecdotes. Junor met his wife, Pam, during the war. She was a gently reared Englishwoman; he came out of a respectable but joyless Glasgow working-class home. After their marriage irretrievably soured, her mother poisoned her daughter’s mind against her father, painting her marriage as an accident of war. Penny has discovered from letters and diaries that they were, in fact, passionately in love.They had 10 years of happiness, living in a house on Lord Beaverbrook’s estate. There was no rent but it did not come without a price. Junor was at Beaver’s beck and call; when the chief was in residence, the family came second. If his proprietor began the corruption of Junor’s domesticity, his job at the Sunday Express completed it. He was a workaholic and a control freak. Lunch and dinner, lubricated by great oceans of drink, were the supreme institutions of his life, although Junor never succumbed to the alcoholism which carried off his eldest brother and his only son.In the great world in which he moved, he was feted and feared; at home, he was a horror. A man who is never contradicted in the office may find it hard to adjust in his own family circle. Though not physically violent, he habitually insulted his wife, reviling her food, scorning her housekeeping, tongue-lashing her as ‘an evil woman’. But the episode which brought an end to the marriage, though they never divorced, was his affair with the sister of one of his son’s girlfriends. Penny found a fictionalised account of it in an unpublished novel he kept locked in a desk drawer. In it, Curtis, a newspaper editor, has an adulterous relationship with a 19-year-old model.Junor’s attitude to women was that sex was a cheerful gift of God but it shouldn’t lead to unpleasantness, like divorce or separation. He divided women into two categories – sluts or virgins – and he was determined that Penny should remain in the second. He did his best to subvert any relationship she developed if it looked serious, taunting the men she brought home. But when she married, he invited the great and the good to the ceremony and gave her away with pride, though he continued to belittle her husband and, latterly, to shun their home, where his wife had taken refuge.Penny’s conclusion is that the job and the power that went with it destroyed the man, turning him into a monster who left numerous victims. He had, as she insists, many qualities. In Fleet Street, he is largely remembered with real affection and, in some cases, love. His column, which established the otherwise unremarkable Fife village of Auchtermuchty as the touchstone of reason, was much imitated. If he was faithless to his wife, he was intensely loyal to his staff, though he dumped friends who crossed him.He was a great companion, an incorrigible gossip, but a friend only on his terms. Fawn he might to Beaver, but he once came within a whisker of resignation on a matter of principle.Despite his behaviour, Penny Junor remains proud of him. But she counts her blessings that he died when he did (after an operation, in 1997, for a gangrenous gut), still writing, still active and did not live into a cantankerous old age, when the task of looking after him, she fears, would have fallen to her.Although Penny Junor’s judgments are harsh, they are not unreasonable, are never malicious and are balanced with praise and affection. This is an eloquent and heartfelt epitaph. It is dedicated to her mother and perhaps its true purpose is to give a voice to a woman who largely suffered in silence.