Hugo Young was one of Britain’s leading journalists for over thirty years, first on the Sunday Times, where he was political editor and deputy editor, and then as the Guardian’s senior political commentator. On his death in 2003 he was called ‘the Pope of the liberal left’, but for the last decade or more of his life there was really no more admired and respected journalist in any position on the political spectrum.
One of the secrets of Young’s success as a journalist was that he was exceptionally well informed. Politicians from every major party, senior civil servants, judges and public figures of all kinds talked to him off the record, discussions which then informed the judgements he made when he wrote. Most of his interlocutors were unaware that straight after their telephone conversation, meal or meeting with Young had finished, he meticulously wrote down exactly what had been said, together with his own immediate impressions of whoever he was talking to.
By 2003, Young’s records from such conversations amounted to a million and a half words. From this extraordinary archive Ion Trewin, who knew Young since they were colleagues in the 1960s, has made a selection which presents a unique record of what many of the leading figures in British political and public life were thinking, frankly and without the distortions of hindsight, for more than three decades. The result is one of the most gripping and informative books about British politics published for many years. Young’s first interviewee, Douglas Hurd, later Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, and one of his regulars for the whole of the period of this book, judged him thus: ‘His success was partly achieved by creating a conversation between two people roughly equal in status and knowledge. His own preconception sometimes appeared, as is natural in a conversation between equals, but never in a way which interrupted the even flow of discourse. He did not distort what he heard.’
The Hugo Young Papers shows Young’s central place in the nexus between politics and journalism in Britain and provides a historical document of the first rank.