Paul Johnson (writer)

Paul Bede Johnson CBE (born 2 November 1928) is an English journalist, popular historian, speechwriter, and author. Although associated with the political left in his early career, he is now a conservative popular historian.

Paul Johnson

Johnson (right) being congratulated by Norman Francis and Ruth Johnson Colvin after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006
Paul Bede Johnson

(1928-11-02) 2 November 1928 (age 91)
Manchester, England
EducationStonyhurst College
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
  • Journalist
  • popular historian
Known forEditor of the New Statesman (1965–70)
Marigold Hunt
(m. 1957)
ChildrenDaniel Johnson
Luke Johnson

Johnson was educated at the Jesuit independent school Stonyhurst College, and at Magdalen College, Oxford. He first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for and later editing the New Statesman magazine. A prolific writer, Johnson has written over 40 books and contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers. His sons include the journalist Daniel Johnson, founder of Standpoint, and the businessman Luke Johnson, former chairman of Channel 4.

Early life and careerEdit

Johnson was born in Manchester. His father, William Aloysius Johnson, was an artist and Principal of the Art School in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. At Stonyhurst, Johnson received an education grounded in the Jesuit method,[1] which he preferred over the more secularized curriculum of Oxford. While at Oxford, Johnson was tutored by the historian A. J. P. Taylor[2] and was a member of the exclusive Stubbs Society.

After graduating with a second-class honours degree, Johnson performed his national service in the Army, joining the King's Royal Rifle Corps and then the Royal Army Educational Corps, where he was commissioned as a Captain (acting) based mainly in Gibraltar.[2] Here he saw the "grim misery and cruelty of the Franco regime".[3] Johnson's military record helped the Paris periodical Réalités hire him,[2] where he was assistant editor from 1952 to 1955.

Johnson adopted a left-wing political outlook during this period as he witnessed in May 1952 the police response to a riot in Paris (Communists were rioting over the visit of American general, Matthew Ridgway, who commanded the US Eighth Army during the Korean War; he had just been appointed NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe), the "ferocity [of which] I would not have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes."[4] Then he served as the New Statesman's Paris correspondent. For a time, he was a convinced Bevanite and an associate of Aneurin Bevan himself. Moving back to London in 1955, Johnson joined the Statesman's staff.

Some of Johnson's writing already showed signs of iconoclasm. His first book, about the Suez War, appeared in 1957. An anonymous commentator in The Spectator wrote that "one of his [Johnson's] remarks about Mr Gaitskell is quite as damaging as anything he has to say about Sir Anthony Eden," but the Labour Party's opposition to the Suez intervention led Johnson to assert "the old militant spirit of the party was back."[5] The following year, he attacked Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Dr No[6] and in 1964 he warned of "The Menace of Beatlism"[7] in an article contemporarily described as being "rather exaggerated" by Henry Fairlie in The Spectator.[8]

Johnson was successively lead writer, deputy editor and editor of the New Statesman magazine from 1965 to 1970. He was found suspect for his attendances at the soirées of Lady Antonia Fraser, then married to a Conservative MP. There was some resistance to his appointment as New Statesman editor, not least from the writer Leonard Woolf, who objected to a Catholic filling the position, and Johnson was placed on six months' probation.[citation needed]

Statesmen and Nations (1971), the anthology of his Statesman articles, contains numerous reviews of biographies of Conservative politicians and an openness to continental Europe; in one article Johnson took a positive view of events of May 1968 in Paris, an article which at the time of first publication led Colin Welch in The Spectator to accuse Johnson of possessing "a taste for violence".[9] According to this book, Johnson filed 54 overseas reports during his Statesman years.

Shift rightwardEdit

In the 1970s, Johnson became increasingly conservative in his outlook and has largely remained so. In his Enemies of Society (1977), following a series of articles in the British press, he opposed the trade union movement, perceiving it as violent and intolerant, terming trade unionists "fascists". As Britain’s economy faltered, Johnson began to advocate the future British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s message of less government and less taxation. He was eventually won over to the Right and became one of Thatcher's closest advisers: "In the 1970s Britain was on its knees. The Left had no answers. I became disgusted by the over-powerful trade unions which were destroying Britain," he recalled in 2004.[10]

After Thatcher's victory in the general election of 1979, Johnson advised on changes to legislation concerning trade unions and was also one of Thatcher's speechwriters. Johnson was quoted in 2004:

"I was instantly drawn to her," he recalls. "I'd known Margaret at Oxford. She was not a party person. She was an individual who made up her own mind. People would say that she was much influenced by Karl Popper or Frederick Hayek. The result was that Thatcher followed three guiding principles: truthfulness, honesty and never borrowing money."[10]

From 1981 to 2009, Johnson wrote a column for The Spectator; initially focusing on media developments, it subsequently acquired the title "And Another Thing". In his journalism, Johnson generally deals with issues and events which he sees as indicative of a general social decline, whether in art, education, religious observance or personal conduct. He has continued to contribute to the magazine, less frequently than before.[11] During the same period he contributed a column to the Daily Mail until 2001. In a Daily Telegraph interview in November 2003, he criticised the Mail for having a pernicious impact: "I came to the conclusion that that kind of journalism is bad for the country, bad for society, bad for the newspaper".[12]

Johnson is a regular contributor to The Daily Telegraph, mainly as a book reviewer, and in the United States to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and the National Review. He also writes for Forbes magazine.[13] For a time in the early 1980s he wrote for The Sun after Rupert Murdoch urged him to "raise its tone a bit."[14]

Johnson is a critic of modernity because of what he sees as its moral relativism,[15] and finds objectionable those who use Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to justify their atheism or use it to promote biotechnological experimentation.[16] As a result, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker have been a target of Johnson's criticism.[17][18] As a conservative Catholic, Johnson regards liberation theology as a heresy and defends clerical celibacy, but departs from others in seeing many good reasons for ordination of women as priests.[19]

Admired by conservatives in the United States and elsewhere, he is strongly anticommunist.[20] Johnson has defended Richard Nixon[21] in the Watergate scandal, finding his cover-up considerably less heinous than Bill Clinton's perjury and Oliver North's involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair. In his Spectator column, Johnson defended his friend Jonathan Aitken,[22] has expressed admiration for General Augusto Pinochet[23] and limited admiration for General Franco.[24]

Johnson was active in the campaign, led by Norman Lamont, to prevent Pinochet's extradition to Spain after Pinochet's arrest in London. "There have been countless attempts to link him to human rights atrocities, but nobody has provided a single scrap of evidence," Johnson was reported as saying in 1999.[25] In Heroes (2008),[23] Johnson returned to his longstanding claim that criticism of Pinochet's regime on human rights grounds came from "the Soviet Union, whose propaganda machine successfully demonised [Pinochet] among the chattering classes all over the world. It was the last triumph of the KGB before it vanished into history's dustbin.".[26]

He has described France as "a republic run by bureaucratic and party elites, whose errors are dealt with by strikes, street riots and blockades" rather than a democracy.[27]

Johnson is a Eurosceptic who played a prominent role in the No campaign during the 1975 referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EEC. In 2010 Johnson noted that 'you can’t have a common currency without a common financial policy, and you can’t have that without a common government. The three things are interconnected. So this [European integration] was entirely foreseeable. Not much careful thought and judgment goes into the EU. It’s entirely run by bureaucrats.'[28]

He served on the Royal Commission on the Press (1974–77) and was a member of the Cable Authority (regulator) from 1984 to 1990.

Personal lifeEdit

Paul Johnson has been married since 1958 to the psychotherapist and former Labour Party parliamentary candidate Marigold Hunt, daughter of Dr. Thomas Hunt, physician to Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, and Anthony Eden. They have three sons and a daughter: the journalist Daniel Johnson,[29] a freelance writer, editor of Standpoint magazine, and previously associate editor of The Daily Telegraph; Luke Johnson,[29] businessman and former chairman of Channel 4 Television; Sophie Johnson-Clark, an independent television executive; and Cosmo Johnson, playwright. Paul and Marigold Johnson have ten grandchildren. Marigold Johnson's sister, Sarah, an art historian, married the journalist, former diplomat and politician George Walden; their daughter, Celia Walden, is the wife of television presenter and former newspaper editor Piers Morgan.[citation needed]

In 1998 it was revealed Johnson had an affair lasting eleven years with the writer Gloria Stewart.[30] Stewart went public with the affair to the newspapers after what she saw as Johnson’s hypocrisy over his views on morality, religion and family values.[31]

Johnson is a friend of British playwright Tom Stoppard, who dedicated his 1978 play Night and Day to him.

Johnson is a watercolourist, painting mainly landscapes, who has exhibited regularly.


In 2006, Johnson was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President George W. Bush.[32]

Johnson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to literature.[33]

Partial bibliographyEdit

Johnson's books are listed by subject or type. The country of publication is the UK, unless stated otherwise.

Anthologies, polemics and contemporary historyEdit

  • Johnson, Paul Bede; Abel-Smith, Brian; Calder, Nigel; Hoggart, Richard; Jones, Mervyn; Marris, Peter; Murdoch, Iris; Shore, Peter; Thomas, Hugh; Townsend, Peter; Williams, Raymond (1957), "A Sense of Outrage", in Mackenzie, Norman Ian (ed.), Conviction, London: MacGibbon & Kee, pp. 202–17.
  • Johnson, Paul Bede (1957), The Suez War, London: MacGibbon & Kee.
  • ——— (1958), Journey Into Chaos, Western Policy in the Middle East, London: MacGibbon & Kee.
  • ——— (1971), Statesmen and Nations, Sidgwick & Jackson. An anthology of New Statesman articles from the 1950s and 1960s.
  • ——— (1977), Enemies of Society, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • ——— (1980), The Recovery of Freedom, Mainstream, Basil Blackwell.
  • ——— (1981), Davis, William (ed.), The Best of Everything – Animals, Business, Drink, Travel, Food, Literature, Medicine, Playtime, Politics, Theatre, Young World, Art, Communications, Law and Crime, Films, Pop Culture, Sport, Women's Fashion, Men's Fashion, Music, Military – contributor.
  • ——— (1985), The Pick of Paul Johnson, Harrap.
  • ——— (1991) [1986], The Oxford Book of Political Anecdotes (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press.
  • ——— (1988), Intellectuals, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • 1994 The Quotable Paul Johnson A Topical Compilation of His Wit, Wisdom and Satire (George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, Heather Higgins (Editors)) 1994 Noonday Press/1996 Atlantic Books (US)
  • 1994 Wake Up Britain – a Latter-day Pamphlet Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 1996 To Hell with Picasso & Other Essays: Selected Pieces from “The Spectator” Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 2009 Churchill (biography), 192 pp.[34]
  • 2012 Darwin: Portrait of a genius (Viking, 176 pages)

Art and architectureEdit

  • 1980 British Cathedrals Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0-297-77828-5
  • 1993 Gerald Laing : Portraits Thomas Gibson Fine Art Ltd (with Gerald Laing & David Mellor MP)
  • 1999 Julian Barrow's London Fine Art Society
  • 2003 Art: A New History Weidenfeld & Nicolson


  • 1972 The Offshore Islanders: England's People from Roman Occupation to the Present/to European Entry [1985 ed as History of the English People; 1998 ed as Offshore Islanders: A History of the English People] Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 1974 Elizabeth I: a Study in Power and Intellect Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 1974 The Life and Times of Edward III Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 1976 Civilizations of the Holy Land Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 1977 Education of an Establishment in The World Of the Public School (pp. 13–28), edited by George MacDonald Fraser, Weidenfeld & Nicolson /St Martins Press (US edition)
  • 1978 The Civilization of Ancient Egypt Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 1981 Ireland: A Concise History from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day [as ...Land of Troubles 1980 Eyre Methuen] Granada
  • 1983 A History of the Modern World from 1917 to the 1980s Weidenfeld & Nicolson – Paperback[1]
  • 1983 Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s Weidenfeld & Nicolson [later, ...Present Time and ...Year 2000 2005 ed] Weidenfeld & Nicolson – Hardcover
  • 1986 The Oxford Book of Political Anecdotes Oxford University Press (editor)
  • 1987 Gold Fields A Centenary Portrait Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 1987 The History of the Jews [2001ed] Weidenfeld & Nicolson (later editions titled A History of the Jews)
  • 1991 The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815–1830 Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK) ISBN 978-1-78-022714-6
  • 1997 A History of the American People Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0-06-093034-9 [2]
  • 2000 The Renaissance [: A Short History *] Weidenfeld & Nicolson/*Random House (USA)
  • 2002 Napoleon (Lives S.) Weidenfeld & Nicolson [2003 Phoenix pbk]
  • 2005 George Washington: The Founding Father (Eminent Lives Series) Atlas Books
  • 2006 Creators HarperCollins Publishers (US) ISBN 0-06-019143-0
  • 2007 Heroes HarperCollins Publishers (US) ISBN 978-0-06-114316-8, 0-06-114316-2; HarperCollins Publishing link to book
  • 2010 Humorists HarperCollins Publishers (US) ISBN 978-0-06-182591-0
  • 2011 Socrates Viking (US)


  • 2004 The Vanished Landscape: A 1930s Childhood in the Potteries Weidenfeld & Nicolson: ISBN 978-0-7538-1933-3
  • 2010 Brief Lives Hutchinson


  • 1959 Left of Centre MacGibbon & Kee ["Left Of Centre describes the meeting of a Complacent Young Man with an Angry Old City"]
  • 1964 Merrie England MacGibbon & Kee


  • 1975 Pope John XXIII Hutchinson
  • 1977 A History of Christianity Weidenfeld & Nicolson /1976 Simon & Schuster /Atheneum (US) ISBN 0-684-81503-6 (S&S Touchstone division paperback edition published in 1995)
  • 1982 Pope John Paul II And The Catholic Restoration St Martins Press
  • 1996 The Quest for God: A Personal Pilgrimage Weidenfeld & Nicolson/HarperCollins (US)
  • 1997 The Papacy Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • 2010 Jesus: A Biography From a Believer Penguin Books


  • 1973 The Highland Jaunt Collins (with George Gale)
  • 1974 A Place in History: Places & Buildings Of British History Omega [Thames TV (UK) tie-in]
  • 1978 National Trust Book of British Castles Granada Paperback [1992 Weidenfeld ed as Castles Of England, Scotland And Wales]
  • 1984 The Aerofilms Book of London from the Air Weidenfeld & Nicolson



  1. ^ As he saw it in his 1957 "Conviction" essay.
  2. ^ a b c Johnson, Paul Bede (22 July 2000), "Bugles softly blowing, national service was a time to treasure", The Spectator, Find articles.
  3. ^ Conviction, p. 206
  4. ^ The French Left, p. 46
  5. ^ "A Spectator' Notebook", The Spectator, 25 January 1957, p. 7
  6. ^ Johnson, Paul Bede (5 April 1958), "Sex, Snobbery and Sadism", New Statesman, in Howe, Stephen, ed. (1988), Lines of Dissent: Writings from the "New Statesman", London: Verso, pp. 151–54.
  7. ^ "The Menace of Beatlism", New Statesman: 326–27, 28 February 1964, reprinted as "From the archive: The Menace of Beatlism", New Statesman, 28 August 2014
  8. ^ Henry Fairlie "Beatles and Babies", The Spectator, 6 March 1964, p. 4
  9. ^ Colin Welch "AfterThought: Imbecile Power", The Spectator, 30 May 1968, p. 31
  10. ^ a b Jeremy Bradshaw "Paul Johnson: George Bush Is the Next Thatcher",, 30 July 2004
  11. ^ Contributor: Paul Johnson, website
  12. ^ Damian Thompson "'I'm very fond of that boy Tony'", Daily Telegraph, 3 November 2003
  13. ^ Contributor page: Paul Johnson,
  14. ^ Paul Johnson "And Another Thing", The Spectator, 29 January 1994, p. 21
  15. ^ Paul Johnson "What the temptations on the high mountain mean today" Archived 4 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine, The Spectator, 28 February 2009
  16. ^ Paul Johnson "And Another Thing – Shaping up for a new moral catastrophe in the 21st century", The Spectator, 16 October 1998, p. 26
  17. ^ Paul Johnson "The ayatollah of atheism and Darwin’s altars", The Spectator, 27 August 2005
  18. ^ Paul Johnson "And Another Thing – An entertaining evening finding out how Professor Pinker's mind works", The Spectator, 31 January 1998, p. 22
  19. ^ Paul Johnson, "My Faith in Women" Archived 18 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine, The Tablet, 1 August 1998, p. 11
  20. ^ Paul Johnson, Modern Times, passim
  21. ^ Paul Johnson "In Praise of Richard Nixon", Commentary, 86:4, October 1988, pp. 50–53
  22. ^ Paul Johnson "And Another Thing – The Aitken case: who is holding the scales of justice tilted?", The Spectator, 28 March 1998, p. 19
  23. ^ a b "Pinochet remains a hero to me because I know the facts" (from Heroes, cited by Richard Lourie "Heroes Are People, Too", The Washington Post, 2 December 2007
  24. ^ Paul Johnson "And Another Thing – Here is my list of the century's greatest political figures", The Spectator, 13 November 1999, p. 38
  25. ^ Nick Hopkins "Rightwing fan club tinkers with Chile history", The Guardian, 20 January 1999
  26. ^ Paul Johnson, Heroes, HarperCollins Publishers (US), 2006, p. 279.
  27. ^ Paul Johnson "Anti-Americanism Is Racist Envy", Forbes, 21 July 2003
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b Popham, Peter (10 March 1997). "Media families; 4. The Johnsons". The Independent. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  30. ^ Elizabeth Grice "Paul Johnson: 'After 70 you begin to mellow'", Daily Telegraph, 4 June 2010
  31. ^ Christopher Hitchens "The Rise and Fall of Paul "Spanker" Johnson", salon, [28 May 1998] Archived 13 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ "Paul Johnson", Desert Island Discs, 15 January 2012
  33. ^ "No. 61608". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2016. p. B9.
  34. ^ Foreman, Jonathan (10 December 2009), "Winston Churchill, Distilled", The Wall Street Journal, p. D6.


  • Robin Blackburn "A Fabian at the End of His Tether" (New Statesman 14 December 1979, reprinted in Stephen Howe (ed) Lines of Dissent: Writings from the New Statesman 1913–88 London: Verso, 1988, pp284–96
  • Christopher Booker The Seventies: Portrait of a Decade Allen Lane, 1980 (chapters: "Paul Johnson: The Convert Who Went over the Top" pp238–44 and "Facing the Catastrophe" pp304–7

External linksEdit

Media offices
Preceded by
John Freeman
Editor of the New Statesman
Succeeded by
Richard Crossman