In May 2012, Pen & Sword books published the second volume of Asa Briggs’s autobiography, Special Relationships: People and Places. Earlier in this blog, I noted that Richard Evans’s main criticism of John Elliott’s recent ‘autobiography’ was that its subject’s life was simply not that interesting. According to Nigel Jones’s review for The Guardian, this is not a criticism that could be levelled at Asa Briggs. He begins: ‘It is unusual for a historian to play a role in great events himself, but Asa Briggs has both interpreted history to a mass audience and played no small part in the making of it’.
Lord Briggs is a man who counted among his friends Clement Attlee, Denis Healey, Harold Macmillan and Jim Callaghan. Jones notes that the book ‘is scathing, by comparison, about today’s generation of political leaders, deploring the ignorance and lack of interest in Britain’s history displayed by Cameron and Clegg’.
From his wartime work at Bletchley Park, to his political connections and his interest in Chinese revolutionary pottery, the life presented is not that of an ordinary historian, or indeed an ordinary man.