Drawing on his long experience of the Diplomatic Service and the world of Whitehall, Laurence Bristow-Smith takes a fresh look at the life one of the twentieth century’s most complex characters, Harold Nicolson – at his nomadic childhood, his strange and passionate marriage, his homosexuality, his struggle to reconcile his undoubted achievements with self-doubt and a nagging sense of failure.
Nicolson was born in the age of the hansom cab and the footman. He died in the age of the satellite and the supermarket. As a diplomat, he was at the centre of events which shaped European history. As a writer, he was praised by everyone from John Betjeman and King George V to Vladimir Nabokov and Igor Stravinsky. As a journalist, he was one of the first media personalities to reach a mass audience. As a politician, he was the most articulate of the anti-appeasement group which centred on Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill in the years leading up to the Second World War. He also found time to design one of England’s most beautiful gardens and help give new direction to the BBC, the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery.
This authoritative and well-researched work shows Nicolson firmly in the context of his own time, a man who saw and tried to understand the great tides of history which were swirling about him.
‘This is much more than a biography. While it takes a fresh look
at the life of an extraordinary individual, it also provides a chronicle of the seismic upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century, whose consequences we can still see today. It is a powerful and moving story.’
— Edward Chaplin, CMG former British Ambassador to Jordan, Iraq and Italy
‘A fresh view of a fascinating individual – full of insight and understanding’
— Michael Forbes Smith, former British Ambassador to Tajikistan
‘A history of the first half of
the twentieth century skilfully woven around the story of one fascinating
and complex character’
— Lord Davidson of Glen Cova, former Advocate General for Scotland
‘Balfour, Curzon, Ramsay MacDonald, Jan Smuts, Churchill, Ernest Bevin, Eden and Asquith were Harold Nicolson’s drinking partners and dining
companions. And yet he remains immensely human and accessible,
the sort of man you could imagine sitting down and having
a drink with. Laurence Bristow-Smith, not least because of
his own diplomatic background, offers a new and sympathetic
portrait of this elusive yet influential figure.’
— Frank Field, MP
Laurence Bristow-Smith gained his doctorate at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for his work on the artist and novelist Mervyn Peake. In the early 1980s, he worked as a Maître de Conférences in the Moroccan university system before returning to the UK and joining the Diplomatic Service. He learnt Chinese and was posted to Taiwan and China, where he was involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. In the 1990s, he worked mainly in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the Balkans, where he served on government task forces for the reconstruction of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. In 2000, he was posted to the British Embassy in Oslo and went on to become British Consul General in Milan. Now a consultant, he advises companies on their international operations, and, together with his wife, Jennifer, runs Glenholme Country House in Kirkcudbright in South-West Scotland.
Laurence Bristow-Smith’s previous publications include Landscapes for the Turning Earth, a study of the life and work of the artist, Alan Rankle. He is currently working on a history of music in the British Isles.
Price: Clothbound hardback £39, US$65, €49 (ISBN 978-2-9700654-5-6)