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DAVID BENEDICTUS
based on the BBC series by Elaine Morgan
Lloyd George


click to enlarge

Sphere, London, 1981
price: 1.25; 224 pages


The blurb on the back:

David Lloyd George was the sole male heir of Betsy and William George. By the time Davy was two his father was dead and the family had moved to Llanystudmdwy in Wales where Davy spent his formative years immersed in studying religion, law and public debate - studies that in later years were to stand him in good stead. An ambitious and determined young man, he wooed and won the hand of Maggie Owen - an advantageous match which her parents desperately tried to stop. Having won a Liberal seat in the Commons, Lloyd George went on to become President of the Board of Trade and then Chancellor of the Exchequer, where he presented the highly controversial 'People's Budget' which later became the backbone of the Welfare State. Finally, in 1916, he was elected Prime Minister of the coalition government which ruled for the remainder of the First World War. A legend as a politician, womaniser and innovator, this was surely his greatest hour. And yet to his parliamentary colleagues and friends he remained an enigma. In this sensational biography David Benedictus gives a candid and compelling portrayal of the twentieth century's most fascinating and controversial political leader.


opening lines:
Sometimes Davy thought he could remember his father, sometimes he wasn't sure.


Bit of an oddity this one, since it's effectively a biography of David Lloyd George, which means it has nothing much to do with this site. But I wanted to include it because it's interesting and there's such a wonderful discrepancy between this and the other David Benedictus book reviewed elsewhere. But that's not a good enough excuse, so I'm claiming it as a TV novelization.

And it is not dissimilar to a novel. The facts are accurate - so far as I know, and this isn't my specialist period of history - but the emphasis and tone are quite a long way from an orthodox political biography. We get a lot of Welsh family background, a lot of religious influence, a lot of the personal life (i.e. the mistresses), we get the loneliness of the long-distance politician, and somewhere along the way we get the story of a decent man corrupted by power.

Lloyd George emerged from the obscurity of North Wales in the late 19th century as the greatest orator of his generation, and stormed into the very heart of the establishment, becoming the most radical Chancellor of the Exchequer ever, provoking a constitutional crisis, curbing the power of the House of Lords and eventually - in 1916 - making it all the way to 10 Downing Street at the head of a Coalition government. In the process he split the Liberal Party, and put it out of power for ever, but the achievement of this Chapel boy, the ultimate outsider, is extraordinary.

His great days came early on, when his vision of Liberalism was at its most radical. Here he is in the Boer War, telling the truth:

'...if you really believe our boys are out there fighting and dying for the franchise, then you understand very little about the realities of power. It is a question of the diamonds; it is a question of the greed for gold; it is a question of the forty-five per cent dividend.' (p.66)

(Plus ça change...) Within sixteen years he was a cheerleader for the Great War (World War I as it was to become), and shortly after was distributing peerages at a rate exceeded only by Little Tony Blair. Unlike Blair, however, he had in the interim transformed Britain for the better, creating the Old Age Pension and the whole concept of National Insurance - he was the true founder of the Welfare State and, forget the Labour Party, he was the most important left-wing politician in 20th century Britain.

If you're not big on academic biographies, then this isn't a bad introduction to the life of one of the most extraordinary people ever to emerge from this country. The TV dramatization - which was titled The Life and Times of Lloyd George and which ran for an impressive nine one-hour episodes - saw Philip Madoc in the title role, and gave Ennio Morricone a hit single with the theme tune, 'Chi Mai'.


ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
1/5


from the maker of...

The Fourth of June

This Animal Is Mischevious

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