By day I work in advertising – but by night – and Thursday evenings in particular, between 7-9pm I sneak away to host ‘The Whole Nine Yards’ on Seahaven FM 96.3 in Seaford, Peacehaven, Newhaven and the more rarefied parts of Lewes. It can be heard live around the world on http://www.seahavenfm.com
Through a mutual friend the opportunity arose recently to interview in a kind of Desert Island (Denton Island?) Discs format, the former Chancellor and Deputy Labour Leader, Lord Denis Healey, who resides at Alfriston. One of the dominant figures in Twentieth Century politics, Lord Healey of Riddlesden has been Chancellor of the Exchequer, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Defence Secretary and one of the leading thinkers in the post 45 transition from collective economic thinking to an economics combining social justice and progressive taxation. He is credited with saving the UK economy after five years of chancellorship in the political firestorm of the seventies and has been criticised by others for not scrutinising the need for the IMF £4 Billion bail out in 1976 more closely.
Most agree that he is the best Labour Party Leader that the party never had and was responsible for preserving the democratic centre of the Labour Party during the divisive times of Militant and the SDP breakaway.
However, for the purposes of the radio show that aired on the 22nd May Denis Healey is also a local resident, a keen consumer of music, poetry and art, an enthusiastic photographer and patron of local groups such as the Corelli Ensemble. At 96 years young he demonstrated amazing wit, recollection and the ability to tell entertaining anecdotes. Although I remember with embarrassment my attempt to show off by recounting his involvement in the Barbara Castle authored ‘In Place of Strife’ Industrial Relations policy in the 70s and loftily announced that Denis supported it. To which he replied, “Did I?”
I collected him from home, sat him down in the studio and spent two hours listening to his amazing stories that ranged from stories about Helmut Kohl, Khrushchev, Ted Heath, The Bloomsbury Group, Picasso to his forthright views about Tony Blair and the UK membership of the EC. We listened to his favourite (mainly classical) pieces of music and the time flew by. Denis was the author of the famous law of holes – when in one stop digging – and this was covered along with the apocryphal ‘Silly Billy’ line that Mike Yarwood ascribed to him.
I asked whether if he had left the Labour Party in 1989 with the rest of the SDP departees, it would have meant the end of the party – and whether, as most people agreed, he should have been the Leader of the Labour party. His bruising encounter with the IMF and the economic restraints it imposed may have been the result of a Treasury calculation error and led to policies that anticipated Monetarism by a decade.
I prepared for it by reading every article and interview available, reading his Autobiography ‘The Time of My Life’ and by listening to the two ‘Desert Islands Discs’ that he had participated in.
The range of topics and opinions on display was encyclopaedic and it stretched my presenter/historian/political commentator skills to the limit.
It was like interviewing the 20th Century in human form!
If you would like to listen to a recording of the programme, it can be listened to here:
On the 3rd October 2015 Lord Denis Healey died aged 98 at his home, Pingles Place in Alfriston, East Sussex.
As a tribute I wrote a poem called ‘Eden Again’ and posted it on this Blog: