Alexander Chancellor, who died this morning aged 77, created the modern Spectator. Since 2012, he has also been a weekly columnist with his Long Life column – which darted from the vagaries of growing old, to memories of his time as editor of The Talk of the Town in the New Yorker, to the wicked foxes who nabbed his beloved ducks at his Northamptonshire house.
Spectator editor from 1975 to 1984, he was responsible for giving the magazine the amusing, anarchic, clever but readable feel it has today.
It was Chancellor who employed Taki – still happily with us – and had the inspired idea of pairing his High Life column with its polar opposite, Low Life, by Jeffrey Bernard. While Taki cruised the high seas on his yacht, fearlessly taking apart the dodgy mores of the international jet set, Jeff trawled the gutters of Soho, recounting the tales of the flotsam and jetsam of drink-fuelled bohemia.
Chancellor, too, hired his old friends, Auberon Waugh and Ferdinand Mount (my father), adding political, satirical and literary ballast to the operation. Nick Garland, the cartoonist, did many of the covers – his accurate, amusing likenesses adding to the addictive quality of the Spectator, which made it a must-read from the mid-70s onwards.
“Alexander got me on to the Spectator – and he had this way of going like a bullet for what was good or bad in your picture or article,” said Nick Garland, the Spectator cartoonist for more than 30 years, “He was never offensive but he was always right. He had a terrific eye for drawings.”
“When he edited the Independent Magazine, it was extremely good visually,” says Garland, who also worked with Chancellor at the Independent, “When the Independent arrived, it looked like it had been there for ever. And that was entirely Alexander. In the build-up to the launch, Alexander was crucial in creating the look of the Independent – the newspaper and the very elegant magazine.”
Alexander was a deceptive figure. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, often with a glass of red wine in hand, he gave an impression of extreme relaxation – an impression intensified by his unique laugh, a combination of wheeze, cackle and uncontrolled delight.
Underneath, though, his editorial mind was whirring away all the time. Not only did he have a brilliant eye for new contributors, but he also had an innate feel for good copy. He was blessed with an in-built boredom detector. The result on the page was what every magazine reader wants – beautifully-written articles, compulsive reads, from cover to cover.
He is an irreplaceable loss to the Spectator, the Oldie – which he has edited in the same unique way since 2014 – his countless friends, and his much loved family.