Malcolm Muggeridge

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Malcolm Muggeridge
File:Malcolm Muggeridge.jpg
Born Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge
(1903-03-24)24 March 1903
Sanderstead, Surrey, England
Died 14 November 1990(1990-11-14) (aged 87)
Robertsbridge, East Sussex, England
Nationality British
Alma mater Selwyn College, Cambridge
Occupation Journalist, author, satirist

Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (24 March 1903 – 14 November 1990)[1] was an English journalist and satirist. His father was a prominent socialist politician and one of the early Labour Party Members of Parliament (for Romford in Essex). In his twenties, Muggeridge was attracted to communism but after living in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, he became a forceful anti-communist. During the Second World War he worked for the British government as a soldier and a spy, first in East Africa for two years, and then in Paris. In the aftermath of the war, as a hugely influential London journalist, he converted to Christianity and helped bring Mother Teresa to popular attention in the West. He was also a critic of the sexual revolution and of drug use. Muggeridge kept detailed diaries for much of his life (published in 1981 under the title Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge) and developed these into two volumes of a critically acclaimed and uncompleted autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time.

Early life and career

Muggeridge's father, Henry (known as H. T. Muggeridge) served as a Labour Party councillor in the local government of Croydon, South London, as a founder-member of the Fabian Society,[2] and as a Labour Member of Parliament for Romford (1929–1931), during Ramsay MacDonald's second Labour government. Muggeridge's mother was Annie Booler.

The middle of five brothers, Muggeridge was born in Sanderstead, Surrey. He grew up in Croydon and attended Selhurst High School there, and then Selwyn College, Cambridge for four years. 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. After graduating in 1924 with a pass degree in natural sciences he went to India for three years to teach English Literature at Union Christian College, Aluva, Kerala. His writing career began during his time in Kerala, via an exchange of correspondence on war and peace with Mahatma Gandhi, with Muggeridge's article on the interactions being published in Young India, a local magazine.

Returning to Britain in 1927, he married Katherine "Kitty" Dobbs (1903–1994),[3] the daughter of Rosalind Dobbs (a younger sister of Beatrice Webb).[3] He worked as a supply teacher before moving to teach English Literature 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, who gave him his first job in journalism.


Initially attracted by communism, Muggeridge and his wife travelled to Moscow in 1932. He was to be a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, standing in for William Chamberlin who was about to take a leave of absence. During Muggeridge's early time in Moscow he was completing a novel, Picture Palace, loosely based on his experiences and observations while at the Manchester Guardian. This was completed and submitted to publishers in January 1933, but there was concern by the publishers with potential libel claims and the published book was not distributed. Very few first-edition copies exist today. This setback caused considerable financial difficulties for Muggeridge, who was not employed at the time, being paid only for articles which were accepted. Increasingly disillusioned by his close-up observation of communism in practice, Muggeridge decided to investigate reports of the famine in Ukraine, travelling there and to the Caucasus without first obtaining the permission of the Soviet authorities. The revealing 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, fellow journalist Gareth Jones, who had met Muggeridge in Moscow, published his own stories, the two accounts helping to confirm the extent of a forced famine which was politically motivated. Writing in The New York Times, Walter Duranty denied the existence of any famine,[4] and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Gareth Jones wrote letters to the Manchester Guardian in support of Muggeridge's articles about the famine.

Having come into conflict with British newspapers' editorial policy of not provoking the authorities in the Soviet Union,[5] Muggeridge turned back to novel writing. He wrote Winter in Moscow (1934), which describes conditions in the "socialist utopia" and satirises Western journalists' uncritical view of the Soviet 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 from an independent socialist point of view to a right-wing religious stance that was no less critical of society. He wrote later:

I wrote in a mood of anger, which I find rather absurd now: not so much because the anger was, in itself, unjustified, as because getting angry about human affairs is as ridiculous as losing one's temper when an air flight is delayed.[6]

Return to India

After his time in Moscow, Muggeridge worked on other newspapers, including The Statesman in Calcutta, of which he was editor in 1934–1936. In this second stint in India, he lived by himself in Calcutta, having left behind his wife and children in London. (Between 1930 and 1936 the Muggeridges had three sons and a daughter.[7]) His office was in the headquarters of the newspaper in Chowringhee.

Second World War

When war was declared, Muggeridge went to Maidstone to join up but was sent away—"My generation felt they'd missed the First War, now was the time to make up."[8] He was called into the Ministry of Information, which he called "a most appalling set-up", and then joined the army as a private. He joined the Corps of Military Police and was commissioned on the General List in May 1940.[9] He transferred to the Intelligence Corps as a lieutenant in June 1942.[10] Having spent two years as a Regimental Intelligence Officer in Britain, by 1942 he was in MI6, and had been posted to Lourenço Marques, capital of Mozambique, as a bogus vice-consul (called a Special Correspondent by London Controlling Section).[11]

His mission was to prevent information about Allied convoys off the coast of Africa falling into enemy hands[12]—he wrote later also that he attempted suicide at this time. After the Allied occupation of North Africa he was posted to Algiers as liaison officer with the French sécurité militaire. In this capacity he was sent to Paris at the time of the liberation, working alongside Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces. He had a high regard for de Gaulle, and considered him a greater man than Churchill.[13] He was warned to expect some anti-British feeling in Paris because of the attack on Mers-el-Kébir. In fact, Muggeridge (speaking on the BBC retrospective programme Muggeridge: Ancient & Modern) said that he encountered no such feeling—indeed he had been allowed, on occasion, to eat and drink for nothing at Maxim's. He 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, as well as the subject for several plays. It was also during this period that he interviewed Coco Chanel in Paris, about the nature of her involvement with the Nazis in Vichy France during the war.[14] Muggeridge ended the war as a Major, having received the Croix de Guerre from the French Government for undisclosed reasons.

Post-war period

Muggeridge wrote for the Evening Standard and The Daily Telegraph, where he was appointed Deputy Editor in 1950. He kept detailed diaries during this period, providing a vivid picture of the journalistic and political London of the day, including regular contact with George Orwell, Anthony Powell, Graham Greene and Bill Deedes; and he comments perceptively on Guy Burgess and Kim Philby. He was editor of Punch magazine from 1953 to 1957, a challenging appointment for one who claimed that "there is no occupation more wretched than trying to make the English laugh". One of his first acts was to sack the illustrator E. H. Shepard.[15] In 1957 he received public and professional opprobrium for criticism of the British monarchy in a US magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. 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 in the UK, and a contract with Beaverbrook newspapers was cancelled. His notoriety then propelled him into becoming better known as a broadcaster, with regular appearances on Panorama and a reputation as a tough interviewer. Encounters with Brendan Behan and Salvador Dalí cemented his reputation as a fearless critic of modern life.

From the early 1960s, Muggeridge became a vegetarian so that he would be "free to denounce those horrible factory farms where animals are raised for food".[16]

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 the Beatles.

His book Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes (1966), though acerbic in its wit, revealed a serious view of life. The title is an allusion to the last line of the poem Aedh 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 editor of The Student, 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 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[17] 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

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 six spiritual thinkers, whom he called "God's Spies", who influenced his life: Augustine of Hippo, William Blake, Blaise Pascal, Leo Tolstoy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Søren Kierkegaard. In this period he also produced several BBC religious documentaries, including In the Footsteps of St. Paul.

Muggeridge became a leading figure in the Nationwide Festival of Light in 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. He said at the time: "The media today—press, television, and radio—are largely in the hands of those who favour the present Gadarene slide into decadence and Godlessness."[18]

Criticism of Life of Brian

In 1979, along with Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, he called John Cleese and Michael Palin "dishonest" during an edition of the chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning. Muggeridge declared their film Life of Brian to be "buffoonery", "tenth-rate", "this miserable little film" and "this little squalid number". Muggeridge regarded the film as blasphemous, despite having arrived late for the showing, according to Palin, thus missing the two scenes in which Jesus and Brian were shown as different people. The comedians expressed disappointment in Muggeridge, whom all in Monty Python had previously respected as a satirist. Cleese said that his reputation had "plummeted" in his eyes, while Palin commented, "He was just being Muggeridge, preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all".[19]

Later years

In 1982, aged 79, he was received into the Catholic Church along with his wife Kitty. This was largely under the influence of Mother Teresa, about whom he had written a book, Something Beautiful for God, setting out and interpreting her life. His last book Conversion (1988) describes his life as a 20th-century pilgrimage, a spiritual journey.


An eponymous literary society was established on 24 March 2003, the occasion of his centenary, and it publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Gargoyle.[20] The Malcolm Muggeridge Society, based in Britain, is progressively republishing his works. Muggeridge's papers are in the Special Collections at Wheaton College, Illinois.

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.[21]

In an interview on the Eric Metaxas Radio Show, notable Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias identified Malcolm Muggeridge and G. K. Chesterton as two important influencers in his life.[22]

A week following Muggeridge's death, William F. Buckley wrote a tribute published in The Washington Post.[23] Mr. Buckley, in an interview on C-SPAN, described Muggeridge as "a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man, a great wit and a brilliant, brilliant analyst."[24]


In his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice and also in a 1994 documentary entitled Hell's Angel the journalist Christopher Hitchens derided Muggeridge as "that old fraud and mountebank". Hitchens dismissed as risible the account of a "divine light" miracle which Muggeridge said he had witnessed in Calcutta's House of the Dying. On viewing footage of the film Something Beautiful for God, Muggeridge attributed the clarity of the images to Teresa's "divine light". Although the more prosaic and realistic explanation was that the BBC cameraman had loaded a new faster film for some poorly lit indoor shots, Muggeridge promoted this "heavenly aura event" as a miracle narrative to the media. Hitchens considered that Muggeridge's subjective interpretation of the events he witnessed in Calcutta and the consequent publicity surrounding those events contributed to Mother Teresa's seraphic reputation.[25]

Malcolm Muggeridge's predatory behaviour towards women during his BBC years was brought to the attention of the public by a book about the recent history of the BBC.[26] He is described as a "compulsive groper" reportedly being nicknamed "The Pouncer" and as "a man fully deserving of the acronym NSIT—not safe in taxis". While confirming the facts and the suffering inflicted on his family, his niece claimed that he changed his behaviour when he converted to Christianity in the 1960s.[27]




  • 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


Year Title Role Notes
1959 I'm All Right Jack T.V. Panel Chairman
1963 Heavens Above! Cleric
1967 Herostratus Radio Presenter Voice

See also

  • Samuel Butler – the subject of Muggeridge's 1936 study.
  • The 2011 television film Holy Flying Circus, broadcast on BBC Four in October 2011, which features a fictional account of Muggeridge and the Pythons' debate on the above programme.
  • Beside the Seaside, 1934 – Bournemouth Contains commissioned article about this seaside resort


  1. GRO Register of Births; Malcolm Muggeridge, My Life in Pictures.
  2. My Life in Pictures ISBN 0-906969-60-3
  3. 3.0 3.1 Nicholas Flynn, "Obituary: Kitty Muggeridge", The Independent, 20 June 1994. This article gives her birth name as "Kathleen", but this appears to be an error, see Albin Krebs, "Malcolm Muggeridge, Writer, Dies at 87", New York Times, 15 November 1990, and other sources online.
  4. BBC World Service "The Useful Idiots"
  5. The End of the House Windsor: Birth of a British Republic ISBN 978-1-850-43735-2 p. 30
  6. Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: Chronicle 1: The Green Stick, Quill, New York, 1982, p. 274.
  7. Krebs, Albin (15 November 1990). "Malcolm Muggeridge, Writer, Dies at 87". New York Times. Retrieved 20 August 2017.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Muggeridge Ancient And Modern, BBC
  9. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34853. p. . 17 May 1940.
  10. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35590. p. . 5 June 1942.
  11. Thadeus Holt, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War, New York: Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007, p. 332.
  12. Muggeridge, Ancient & Modern BBCTV
  13. The Archive Hour, St Mugg, First broadcast BBC Radio 4, 19 April 2003
  14. "Censorship Defied: An authentic reminiscence by Gabrielle Labrunie", Chanel's War.
  15. "E. H. Shepard" Archived 4 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine,
  16. Marian Burros (13 October 1982). "In Defense of Vegetarianism: Seven Yeas". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2017.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Nigel Rees, The Quote ... Unquote Book of Love, Death and the Universe, 1980, ISBN 0-04-827022-9
  18. "Rallying for love and family life". Glasgow Herald. 12 July 1971.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Cleese and Palin relive the 1979 Life of Brian debate, BBC News
  20. Malcolm Muggeridge Society.
  21. "Welsh hero of Ukraine recognized". BBC. 18 November 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Eric Metaxas Radio Show, July 11, 2019.
  23., "MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE AND THE LONGING FOR FAITH", William F. Buckley Jr. November 24, 1990.
  24. at 00:18:53
  25. Hell's Angel, BBC, 1994
  26. "Pinkoes and Traitors: The BBC and the Nation, 1974-1987", by Jean Seaton, publisher: Profile, London, 2015, 416 pages, ISBN 978-1781252727.
  27. Ben Farmer (24 February 2015). "Malcolm Muggeridge was a serial groper who 'caused much hurt to those close to him', niece admits". The Daily Telegraph. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Taken from How can you Bear to be Human published in the UK by Deutch

Further reading

  • 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, London, New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
  • Kuhne, Cecil, Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith, San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58617-068-4
  • Flynn, Nicholas, Time and Eternity: Uncollected Writings 1933–1983, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010. ISBN 978-0-232-52808-4
  • Krebs, Albin (15 November 1990). "Malcolm Muggeridge, Writer, Dies at 87". The New York Times. p. B19. Retrieved 14 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Colin Coote
Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph
Succeeded by
Ivor Bulmer-Thomas
Academic offices
Preceded by
James Robertson Justice
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Kenneth Allsop