Paul Johnson (writer)

Paul Johnson (writer)


Early life and career

At Stonyhurst, Johnson received an education grounded in the Jesuit method, which he preferred over the more secularized curriculum of Oxford. One of his tutors at Oxford was the historian A.J.P. Taylor. []

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. [] Here he saw the "grim misery and cruelty of the Franco regime" ("Conviction", p. 206).

In the early 1950s he worked on the staff of the Paris periodical "Realités", where he was assistant editor (1952-55).

Johnson became a liberal during this period as he witnessed, in May 1952, the police response to a riot in Paris, the "ferocity [of which] I would not have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes." Subsequently, he also 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, he joined the "Statesman"'s staff; he was leader writer, deputy editor and then editor from 1965 to 1970.

Johnson received 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. Some of Johnson's articles already showed signs of iconoclasm: in 1964 he warned of "The Menace of Beatlism," [] , and he was also found suspect for his attendances at the soirees of Lady Antonia Fraser, then married to a Conservative MP.

"Statesmen And Nations" (1971), the anthology of his "Statesman" articles, contains a curious split between numerous reviews of biographies of Conservative politicians and an openness to continental Europe; in one article Johnson even took a positive view of events of May 1968 in Paris, although remaining conscious of the problems of violence in periods of political change. According to this book, Johnson filed fifty-four overseas reports during his "Statesman" years. Alan Watkins, the political journalist and a former colleague at the "Statesman", once claimed in a "Guardian" feature on Johnson that he is at heart a paternalist conservative who fitted in with the left for a time.

Recent decades

During 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 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 later. [] 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. “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,” says Johnson. []

Johnson began writing a column for the conservative British weekly magazine "The Spectator" in 1981; initially focusing on media developments, it subsequently acquired the title "And Another Thing", and was still running as of 2008. In his journalism, Johnson sees evidence of general social decline, whether in art, education, religious observance or personal conduct. [] []

Johnson wrote a column for 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". []

In addition to his column in "The Spectator", 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 the Current Events column at [] . For a time in the early 1980s he wrote for the "The Sun".

Johnson is a critic of modernity because of what he sees as its moral shortcomings, [] and also finds objectionable those who use Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to justify their atheism or use it to promote biotechnological experimentation [] . As a result of Johnson's views on evolution, [] the Darwinian scientist and noted atheist Richard Dawkins [] has been a target of Johnson's pen in the past. As a conservative Catholic, Johnson also regards liberation theology as a heresy and defends clerical celibacy, but alludes to many good reasons for ordination of women as priests. []

Admired by conservatives in the United States and elsewhere, he is strongly anti-communist [] . Johnson has defended Richard Nixon [] in the Watergate scandal, finding his cover-up considerably less heinous than Bill Clinton's perjury, and Oliver North in the Iran-Contra Affair. In his "Spectator" column he has defended his friend Jonathan Aitken [] and has expressed admiration for General Franco. [] He has, on the other hand, criticized European countries, in particular France, for being undemocratic [] .

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

In 2006, Johnson was honored with the highly prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Personal life

Paul Johnson has been married to the psychotherapist and former Labour Party parliamentary candidate Marigold Hunt since 1958. They have three sons and a daughter: the journalist Daniel Johnson, a freelance writer, editor of Standpoint magazine, and previously associate editor of "The Daily Telegraph"; Luke Johnson, businessman and chairman of Channel 4 Television; Cosmo Johnson; and Sophie Johnson-Clark, who has worked as a television script editor and now resides in the U.S. Paul Johnson has nine grandchildren.

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


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



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

Anthologies, polemics & contemporary history
*1957 "Conviction" MacGibbon & Kee (contribution: "A Sense of Outrage" pp202-17, with Brian Abel-Smith, Nigel Calder, Richard Hoggart, Mervyn Jones, Norman Mackenzie (ed), Peter Marris, Iris Murdoch Peter Shore, Hugh Thomas, Peter Townsend & Raymond Williams)

*1957 "The Suez War" MacGibbon & Kee

*1958 "Journey Into Chaos" MacGibbon & Kee [Western Policy in the Middle East]

*1971 "Statesmen And Nations" Sidgwick & Jackson [An anthology of New Statesman articles from the 1950s and 1960s. Often surprisingly mild in tone given Johnson's later development.]

*1977 "Enemies of Society" Weidenfeld & Nicolson

*1980 "The Recovery of Freedom" (Mainstream Series) Basil Blackwell

*1981 "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" (ed by William Davis) - contributor

*1985 "The Pick of Paul Johnson" Harrap

*1986 "The Oxford Book Of Political Anecdotes" (2nd ed 1991) 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

*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" [1985ed as "History of the English People"; 1998ed 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" (pp13-28), 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 & Nicholson

*1984 "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

*1987 "Gold Fields A Centenary Portrait" Weidenfeld & Nicolson

*1987 [2001ed] "The History of the Jews" Weidenfeld & Nicolson (later editions titled "A History of the Jews")

*1991 "The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830" Weidenfeld & Nicolson

*1996 "The Holocaust" Phoenix [pages 482 to 517 of A History of the Jews]

*1997 "A History of the American People" Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0-06-093034-9 []

*2002 "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 (USA) ISBN 0-06-019143-0

*2007 "Heroes" HarperCollins Publishers (USA) ISBN 978-0-06-114316-8; ISBN-10:0-06-114316-2; [ HarperCollins Publishing link to book]

*2004 "The Vanished Landscape: A 1930s Childhood in the Potteries" Weidenfeld & Nicolson

*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 (USA)

*1982 "Pope John Paul II And The Catholic Restoration" St Martins Press

*1996 "The Quest for God: A Personal Pilgrimage" Weidenfeld & Nicolson/HarperCollins (USA)

*1997 "The Papacy" Weidenfeld & Nicolson

*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]

*1980 "British Cathedrals" Weidenfeld & Nicolson

*1984 "The Aerofilms Book of London from the Air" Weidenfeld & Nicolson

External links

* [ "Philosophy Now" paper "The Uses and Abuses of Philosophical Biographies" on Johnson's "Intellectuals" (1988)]
* [ "Feud - and it's a scorcher!" - article by John Walsh on Johnson's differences with "The Guardian" in "The Independent" July 28, 1997]
* [ "New York Times" Featured Author September 9, 2000: Paul Johnson]
* [ White House press release regarding Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Johnson]

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