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Malcolm Muggeridge

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Malcolm Muggeridge
taking part in a BBC TV discussion programme
Born 24 March 1903(1903-03-24)
Sanderstead, South Croydon, England
Died 14 November 1990 (aged 87)
Sussex, England
Occupation journalist, author, satirist
Relative(s) Con,Liz,Phoebe,Rose,and Grace Clements

Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (Sanderstead, South Croydon, England 24 March 1903 [1] – 14 November 1990) was a British journalist, author, satirist, media personality, soldier-spy and, in his later years, a Christian convert and writer.


His father, H.T. Muggeridge, was a prominent Labour councillor in the local government of Croydon, South London, a founder-member of the Fabian Society, [2] and for a short time, Member of Parliament for Romford in Ramsay MacDonald's second labour government. His mother was Annie Booler.

Malcolm, one of five boys, attended Selhurst Grammar School and Selwyn College, Cambridge for four years, graduating in 1924 with a pass degree in natural sciences. He then went to India to teach. While still a student he had taught for brief periods in 1920, 1922 and 1924 at the John Ruskin Central School, Croydon, where his father was Chairman of the Governors.

Returning to England in 1927, he married Katherine Dobbs (1903–1994), also called Kathleen or Kitty, whose mother Rosalind Dobbs was a younger sister of Beatrice Webb. He worked as a supply teacher, before moving to teach in Egypt six months later. Here he met Arthur Ransome who was visiting Egypt as a journalist for the Manchester Guardian. Ransome recommended Muggeridge to the editors of the Guardian and he was employed as a journalist for the first time.


Initially attracted by Communism, Muggeridge and his wife travelled to Moscow in 1932, where he was to be a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, standing in for William Chamberlin who was about to take leave of absence. During Muggeridge's early time in Moscow, his main journalistic concentration was writing a novel Picture Palace about his experiences at the Manchester Guardian, completed and submitted to publishers in January 1933. The publishers were concerned with potential libel claims and the book was not published, causing financial difficulties for Muggeridge who was not employed at the time, being paid only for articles he could get accepted. Increasingly disillusioned by communism, Muggeridge decided to investigate reports of the famine in Ukraine, travelling there and to the Caucasus without the permission of the Soviet authorities. Reports he sent back to the Manchester Guardian in the diplomatic bag, thus evading censorship, were not fully printed and were not published under Muggeridge's name. At the same time, rival journalist Gareth Jones who had met Muggeridge in Moscow, published his own stories confirming the extent of the famine. Writing in the New York Times, Walter Duranty denied the existence of any famine. Gareth Jones wrote letters to the Manchester Guardian in support of Muggeridge's articles about the famine.

Having come into conflict with the paper's editorial policy, Muggeridge turned back to novel-writing, starting Winter In Moscow (1934), describing conditions in the 'socialist utopia' and satirizing Western journalists uncritical view of the Stalin regime. He was later to call Duranty "the greatest liar I have met in journalism." Later, he began a writing partnership with Hugh Kingsmill. Muggeridge's politics changed as he moved from what was seen as an independent socialist point of view to what was seen by many as a right-wing stance that was no weaker in its criticism of problems in society. Muggeridge's politics defied easy categorization in party-political terms.

In November 2008, on the 75th anniversary of the Ukraine famine, both Muggeridge and Jones were posthumously awarded the Ukrainian Order of Freedom to mark their exceptional services to the country and its people.[3]

World War II

During the war he was part of the British Secret Intelligence Service operation in Brussels which was headed by Richard Barclay, whom Muggeridge and his colleague Donald McLachlan were accused of bullying. Muggeridge's attempt to claim credit for dismantling the German spy network in Antwerp, in which his critics said he played no part, provoked furious protests from those involved (Richard Gatty and Charles Arnold-Baker) to Barclay. He was later sent to neutral Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa where he is reputed to have been responsible for the capture of a German U Boat, but also spoke later of an attempt at suicide. Shortly after the liberation of Paris by the Allies, Muggeridge was assigned to make an initial investigation into P.G. Wodehouse's five broadcasts from Berlin during the war. Though he was prepared to dislike Wodehouse, the interview became the start of a lifelong friendship and publishing relationship. This meeting was later to be the subject of a stage play by Roger Milner "Beyond a Joke."

Post-war period

Muggeridge worked on other papers, including the Calcutta Statesman, Evening Standard, and Daily Telegraph. He was editor of Punch magazine from 1953 to 1957, a challenging appointment for one who claimed to have no sense of humour. In 1957 he received public and professional opprobrium for criticism of the British monarchy in a US magazine, the Saturday Evening News. Given the title "Does England Really Need a Queen?", its publication was delayed by five months to coincide with the Royal State Visit to Washington, D.C. taking place later in the year. While the article was little more than a rehash of views expressed in a 1955 article "Royal Soap Opera," its timing caused outrage back in Britain, and he was sacked for a short period from the BBC, and a contract with Beaverbrook newspapers was cancelled. His infamy helped propel him to becoming an even better known broadcaster with a reputation as a tough interviewer. But by the 1960s, his spiritual beliefs began to become more significant in his professional career. He became a figure of some ridicule and satire as he took to frequently denouncing the new sexual laxity of the swinging sixties on radio and television. He particularly railed against "Pills and Pot" - birth control pills and cannabis. He was contemptuous of fellow countrymen the Beatles. In a 1968 article in Esquire magazine, he called them "four vacant youths...dummy figures with tousled heads (and) no talent."

His 1966 book, Tread softly for you tread on my jokes, was published during this time and though acerbic in its wit, revealed a serious view of life. The title is an allusion to the last line of the poem He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven by William Butler Yeats–" Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." In 1967, he preached at Great St Mary's, Cambridge, and again in 1970.

Having been elected rector of Edinburgh University, Muggeridge was goaded by the Student (newspaper) editor Anna Coote to support the call for contraceptive pills to be available at the University Health Centre. He used a sermon at St. Giles' Cathedral in January 1968, to resign the post in protest against the Student Representative Council's views on "pot and pills." This sermon was published under the title "Another King."

Muggeridge was also known for his wit and profound writings, often at odds with the prevailing opinions of the day; - "Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream", he liked to quote. He wrote two volumes of an autobiography called Chronicles of Wasted Time (the title is a quotation[4] from Shakespeare's Sonnet 106). The first volume (1972) was The Green Stick. The second volume (1973) was The Infernal Grove. A projected third volume The Right Eye covering the post-war period was never completed.

Conversion to Christianity

Having professed to being an agnostic for most of his life, he became a Christian, publishing Jesus Rediscovered in 1969, a collection of essays, articles and sermons on faith. It became a best seller. Jesus: The Man Who Lives followed in 1976, a more substantial work describing the gospel in his own words. In A Third Testament, he profiles seven spiritual thinkers, or God's Spies as he called them, who influenced his life: St. Augustine of Hippo, William Blake, Blaise Pascal, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Søren Kierkegaard. In this period he also produced several important BBC documentaries with a religious theme, including In the Footsteps of St. Paul.

In 1979 he publicly attacked John Cleese and Michael Palin during a television debate concerned with the perceived blasphemy of the film Monty Python's Life of Brian. The comedians expressed disappointment in Muggeridge, whom all in Python had previously respected as a satirist. Cleese expressed that his reputation had "plummeted" in his eyes, while Palin commented that, "He was just being Muggeridge, preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all".

Conversion to Roman Catholicism

In 1982, he surprised many by converting to Roman Catholicism at 79 along with his wife, Kitty. This was largely due to the influence of Mother Teresa. His last book Conversion, published in 1988 and recently republished, describes his life as a 20th century pilgrimage - a spiritual journey.

Muggeridge was a controversial figure - known as a drinker, heavy smoker and womaniser in earlier life. However, some of his best work came as a result of finding faith late in life, eloquently expressed in broadcast and in writing, and fighting energetically on moral issues. He is now affectionately remembered as St. Mugg. In his book, Jesus: The Man Who Lives, he says, "If the greatest of all, Incarnate God, chooses to be the servant of all, who would wish to be the master?". He was a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light of 1971, protesting against the commercial exploitation of sex and violence in Britain, and advocating the teaching of Christ as the key to recovering moral stability in the nation.

A Literary Society in his name was established on 24 March 2003, the occasion of his centenary, and publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Gargoyle. The society, based in Britain is progressively republishing Muggeridge's works.

Muggeridge's papers are in the Special Collections at Wheaton College, Illinois, USA.


Writer Christopher Hitchens, in his 1994 BBC programme Hell's Angel, described Muggeridge as a "fraud and mountebank". After footage shot in low-light conditions and expected to be useless (for a programme Muggeridge made on Mother Teresa), turned out to be more than adequate, Muggeridge described it as a miracle. Later in the program BBC cameraman Ken McMillan explains the surprising footage was the result of the delivery of a new type of film produced by Kodak, designed specifically to be used in poorly-lit conditions.[5]




  • Ultimate concern. 'Am I a Christian?', etc., Cambridge, (1967)
  • Living water, Aberdeen, (1968), ISBN 0-7152-0016-X
  • Another King, St Andrews Press (1968)
  • Still I believe: nine talks broadcast during Lent and Holy Week, (1969), ISBN 0-563-08552-5
  • Light in our darkness, Edinburgh, (1969), ISBN 0-7152-0069-0
  • Fundamental questions : what is life about?, Cambridge, (1970)
  • America Needs a Punch, Esquire (April 1958), 59–60, 60


  • Ingrams, Richard, Muggeridge : the biography, London : HarperCollins (1995), ISBN 0-00-638467-6
  • Wolfe, Gregory, Malcolm Muggeridge : a biography, London : Hodder & Stoughton, (1995), ISBN 0-340-60674-6
  • Hunter, Ian, Malcolm Muggeridge : a life, London : Collins, (1980), ISBN 0-241-12048-9
  • Muggeridge, ancient & modern / edited by Christopher Ralling and Jane Bywaters ; with drawings by Trog, London, BBC, (1981), ISBN 0-563-17905-8. This is a revised edition of Muggeridge through the microphone (1967)
  • Porter, David, A disciple of Christ : conversations with Malcolm Muggeridge, Basingstoke : Marshalls, (1983), ISBN 0-551-01059-2
  • Malcolm Muggeridge's Conversion Story
  • McCrum, Robert. Wodehouse, A Life, W.W. Norton, London, New York, 2004
  • Kuhne, Cecil. Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith Ignatius Press (2006), ISBN 978-1-58617-068-4
  1. GRO Register of Births: JUN 1903 2a 222 CROYDON - Thomas Malcolm MUGGERIDGE, & My Life in Pictures Malcolm Muggeridge ISBN 0-906969-60-3
  2. My Life in Pictures ISBN 0-906969-60-3
  3. "Telling the truth about the Ukrainian famine". National Post (Canada). 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  4. Nigel Rees, The Quote ... Unquote Book of Love, Death and the Universe, 1980, ISBN 0-04-827022-9
  5. Hell's Angel. Christopher Hitchens
  6. Taken from How can you Bear to be Human published in the UK by Deutch

See also

External links


Academic offices
Preceded by
James Robertson Justice
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
1966 – 1969
Succeeded by
Kenneth Allsop
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