Harry Mount on Charles Moore

For what follows, I fully expect to be invested with the Order of
the Brown Nose, the title given by Private Eye to heroically
sycophantic journalists. But Charles Moore, editor of The Daily
Telegraph when I first
worked there as a gossip columnist in 2000 on what used to be known as
Peterborough, deserves all the praise I’m going to give him. And it’s
not to curry favour: he stopped being editor two years ago.

The
qualities needed to be an editor are curiosity, intelligence, a desire
to be amused, to create mischief and to inform, and a gentility of
spirit. Charles Moore had all the qualities in buckets.

The last
of those – gentility of spirit – seems odd if you’re used to the cliché
of the popped-veined editor. But you only have to pop veins and rule by
fear if you can’t rule by intelligence.

I never saw Charles Moore
shout or get angry, because he ruled by the greatest intelligence. He
corrected somebody if they were wrong; they knew he was right and
didn’t do it again; no need for argument.

Sion Simon, the Labour
MP and former Telegraph columnist, once used “beg the question” to mean
an incomplete statement of fact needed a further question to make it
complete. Charles sent a memo correcting this. Begging the question
should only be used of an answer to a particular question that begs
exactly the same question.

For example: “Why is Posh Spice the cleverest woman on earth?”

“Because she’s the cleverest woman on earth.”

“Well, that begs the question.”

The
precision, intelligence and energy needed to correct an abstruse
English idiom in an otherwise flawless article was at the heart of
Charles Moore’s brilliance. But precision is pointless if it’s merely
pedantic. It’s only worthwhile if it’s used to clarify the English
that’s then used to entertain and inform.

Although he was bashed
by Private Eye for turning out the ‘Hurleygraph’, his brand of
high-minded Tory liberalism was the ideal inspiration for the Comment
pages, where I went to from Peterborough. But it’s not the best way to
catch your eye on the 8.13 from Harpenden. Liz Hurley, or whoever’s
looking their best that day, is

It’s rare in the clever not to want to show off the fact that they’re clever.

Those
that don’t advertise the fact have the intellectual confidence needed
to make a paper trawl the gutter and tax the mind, as the finest papers
do.

To have a picture of Sienna Miller opposite an article by a
Fellow of All Souls about the effect of Henry VIII’s legacy on Prince
Charles’s right to marry a divorcée – but only because Camilla Parker
Bowles is in the news – makes for the best of newspapers.

Harry Mount is The Daily Telegraph’s New York correspondent

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