Malcolm Muggeridge

Malcolm Muggeridge
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
Religion Roman Catholic—formerly Anglican, Agnostic

Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (24 March 1903 – 14 November 1990),[1] known professionally as Malcolm Muggeridge, was a British journalist, author, media personality, and satirist. As a young man, Muggeridge was a left-wing sympathiser but he later became a forceful anti-communist. During World War II, he worked for the British government as a soldier and a spy. He is credited with helping bring Mother Teresa to popular attention in the West and stimulating debate about Catholic theology. In his later years he was outspoken on religious and moral issues. He wrote two volumes of an acclaimed—and unfinished—autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time.

Early life and career

Muggeridge's father, Henry (known as H. T. Muggeridge) served as a prominent 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). His 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. Ironically, 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.


Muggeridge investigated the famine in Ukraine.

Initially attracted by Communism, Muggeridge and his wife travelled to Moscow in 1932, where 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, his main journalistic concentration was in completing a novel, Picture Palace, loosely based on his experiences and observations whilst 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 book was not published. 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 observations of communism in practice, Muggeridge decided to investigate reports of the famine in Ukraine, travelling there and to the Caucasus without obtaining the permission of the Soviet authorities. 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, rival journalist Gareth Jones, who had met Muggeridge in Moscow, published his own stories that served to confirm the extent of the famine. 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, namely not wishing to make waves in Russia in view of the more worrying political situation in Germany, Muggeridge turned back to novel writing, beginning Winter in Moscow (1934), which describes conditions in the "socialist utopia" and satirises Western journalists' uncritical view of Joseph Stalin's 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.[5]

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.[6]

Return to India

After his time in Moscow, Muggeridge worked on other newspapers, including the The Statesman in Calcutta, of which he was editor in 1934-36. In this second stint in India, he lived by himself in Calcutta, having left behind his wife and children in London. His office was in the headquarters of the newspaper in Chowringhee.

World War II

When war was declared, Muggeridge went to Maidstone to join up but was sent away at this point – "My generation felt they'd missed the First War, now was the time to make up."[7] 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. He transferred to the Intelligence Corps as a Lieutenant in June 1942. Having spent two years as a Regimental Intelligence Officer in England, by 1942 he was in MI6, and had been posted to Lourenço Marques as a bogus vice-consul (called a Special Correspondent by London Controlling Section).[8]

His mission was to prevent information about Allied convoys off the coast of Africa falling into enemy hands[9] – 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.[10] 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.[11] Muggeridge ended the war as a Major, having received a Croix de Guerre medal from the French Government for undisclosed reasons.

Post-war period

He also wrote for the Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph. He was editor of Punch magazine from 1953 to 1957, a challenging appointment for one who claimed to have no sense of humour. One of his first acts was to sack the illustrator E. H. Shepard.[12] In 1957 he received public and professional opprobrium for criticism of the British monarchy in a U.S. 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 back in Britain, and he was sacked for a short period from the BBC, and a contract with Beaverbrook newspapers was cancelled. His notoriety propelled him into becoming a better-known broadcaster with a reputation as a tough interviewer.

He became a figure of some ridicule and satire as 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. In a 1968 article for Esquire magazine, he called them "four vacant youths... dummy figures with tousled heads (and) no talent."

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[13] 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.

In 1982, aged 79, he was received into the Catholic Church along with his wife Kitty. This was largely because of 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.

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 Gaderene slide into decadence and Godlessness."[14]


In 1979, along with Mervyn Stockwood, then 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 had perceived that the film to be blasphemous, despite having arrived late for the showing, according to Palin, thus missing the two scenes in which Jesus and Brian were shown as two separate people at the same time. The comedians expressed disappointment in Muggeridge, whom all in Monty Python had previously respected as a satirist. Cleese expressed 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."[15]

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 claimed to have 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 considers 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.[16]

Literary society

An eponymous literary society was established on 24 March 2003, the occasion of his centenary, and it publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Gargoyle.[17] The Malcolm Muggeridge Society, based in Britain, is progressively republishing his works. Muggeridge's papers are in the Special Collections at Wheaton College, Illinois.





See also

Further reading


  1. GRO Register of Births; Malcolm Muggeridge, My Life in Pictures.
  2. My Life in Pictures ISBN 0-906969-60-3
  3. 1 2 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. Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: Chronicle 1: The Green Stick, Quill, New York, 1982, p. 274.
  6. "Telling the truth about the Ukrainian famine". National Post. 22 November 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2008.
  7. Muggeridge Ancient And Modern, BBC
  8. Thadeus Holt, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War, New York: Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007, p. 332.
  9. Muggeridge , Ancient & Modern BBCTV
  10. The Archive Hour, St Mugg, First broadcast BBC Radio 4, 19 April 2003
  11. "Censorship Defied: An authentic reminiscence by Gabrielle Labrunie", Chanel's War.
  12. "E. H. Shepard" Archived 4 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine.,
  13. Nigel Rees, The Quote ... Unquote Book of Love, Death and the Universe, 1980, ISBN 0-04-827022-9
  14. "Rallying for love and family life". Glasgow Herald. 12 July 1971.
  15. Cleese and Palin relive the 1979 Life of Brian debate, BBC News
  16. Hell's Angel, BBC, 1994
  17. Malcolm Muggeridge Society.
  18. Taken from How can you Bear to be Human published in the UK by Deutch
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Malcolm Muggeridge
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
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