Malcolm Muggeridge
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Malcolm Muggeridge

Malcolm Muggeridge
Malcolm Muggeridge.jpg
Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge

(1903-03-24)24 March 1903
Died14 November 1990(1990-11-14) (aged 87)
Alma materSelwyn College, Cambridge
OccupationJournalist, author, satirist

Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (24 March 1903 - 14 November 1990)[1][2] was an English journalist and satirist. His father, H. T. Muggeridge, 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; he went to live in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, then became a forceful anti-communist. During World War II, 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, he converted to Christianity under the influence of Hugh Kingsmill and helped to 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 which were published in 1981 under the title Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge, and he developed these into two volumes of an uncompleted autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time.[3]

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 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 British India for three years to teach English Literature at Union Christian College, Aluva, Kingdom of Cochin. His writing career began during his time in the Kingdom 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),[a] the daughter of Rosalind Dobbs (a younger sister of Beatrice Webb).[4] 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 over 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, those that were published (on 25, 27 and 28 March 1933), were not published under Muggeridge's name.[5][6] 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,[7] 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,[8] Muggeridge returned 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.

-- Muggeridge 1982, p. 274

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.[9]) 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."[10] 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.[11] He transferred to the Intelligence Corps as a lieutenant in June 1942.[12] 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).[13] Before heading out, Muggeridge stayed in Portugal for one day. He stayed in Estoril, at the Pensão Royal, on 17 May 1942.[14]

His mission was to prevent information about Allied convoys off the coast of Africa falling into enemy hands[15]--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.[16] 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.[17] 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 also for 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 Ian Fleming, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby. Muggeridge also acted as Washington correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. 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.[18] 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 the BBC's 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".[19]

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 resigned as a judge for the 1971 Booker Prize because of his "general lack of sympathy with entries for this year's Booker Prize." He was replaced on the panel by Philip Toynbee.[20]

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[21] 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, Muggeridge became a Protestant 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."[22]

Criticism of Life of Brian

In 1979, along with Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, Muggeridge appeared on the chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning to discuss the film Life of Brian with Monty Python members John Cleese and Michael Palin. Although the Python members gave several reasons why they believed the film to be neither anti-Christian nor mocking the person of Jesus, both Muggeridge and the bishop insisted they were being disingenuous and sophistical, insisting that the film "of course" was anti-Christian and blasphemous. Muggeridge further declared their film to be "buffoonery", "tenth-rate", "this miserable little film" and "this little squalid number". According to Palin, Muggeridge arrived late, thus missing the two scenes in which Jesus and Brian were distinguished as different people. The discussion was moderated by Tim Rice, the lyricist for the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which had also generated some controversy in Britain about a decade earlier over its depiction of Jesus.

The comedians later 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".[23]

Later years

In 1982, aged 79, Muggeridge was received into the Catholic Church, rejecting Anglicanism,[24] 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.[25][26] His last book, Conversion (1988), describes his life as a 20th century pilgrimage, a spiritual journey.

Muggeridge died on 14 December 1990 in a nursing home in Sussex, England, at the age of 87 years. He had suffered a stroke three years earlier.


An eponymous literary society was established on 24 March 2003, the occasion of his centenary, and it publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Gargoyle.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

A week following Muggeridge's death, William F. Buckley wrote a tribute published in The Washington Post.[30] Buckley, in an interview on C-SPAN, described Muggeridge as "a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man, a great wit and a brilliant, brilliant analyst."[31]:begins at 00:18:53

Controversy and critique

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.[32] 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 said that he changed his behaviour when he converted to Christianity in the 1960s.[33]



  • Three Flats: A Play in Three Acts (1931)
  • Winter in Moscow (1934)
  • Picture Palace (1934, 1987) ISBN 0-297-79039-0
  • La Russie. Vue par Malcolme (sic) Muggeridge. Paris, Imprimerie Pascal, N.d.(c. 1934) 14pp.
  • The Earnest Atheist: A study of Samuel Butler, London: Eyre & Spottiswoode (1936)
  • The Thirties, 1930-1940, in Great Britain (1940, 1989) ISBN 0-297-79570-8
  • Affairs of the Heart (1949)
  • Bentley, Nicholas (1957). How can you Bear to be Human. London: Andre Deutsch.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link), Muggeridge wrote the introduction.
  • Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes (1966)
  • Jesus Rediscovered (1969) ISBN 0-00-621939-X
  • Muggeridge Through the Microphone (1969)
  • Something Beautiful for God (1971) ISBN 0-00-215769-1 Muggeridge introduced Mother Teresa to the world with this book
  • Paul, Envoy Extraordinary (1972) with Alec Vidler, ISBN 0-00-215644-X
  • Chronicles of Wasted Time. New York: Morrow. 1972. ISBN 9780688003005. OCLC 283705853. OL 24203423M.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975) ISBN 0-00-211388-0
  • A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky. Little, Brown. 1976.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Christ and the Media (1977) ISBN 0-340-22438-X
  • In a Valley of This Restless Mind (1978) ISBN 0-00-216337-3
  • Things Past (1979)
  • The End of Christendom (1980) ISBN 0-8028-1837-4
  • Like it Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge (1981) ISBN 0-00-216468-X
  • My life in pictures. London: Herbert Press. 1987. ISBN 0906969603. OL 2473679M.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Chronicles of Wasted Time. Chronicle 1: The Green Stick. New York: Quill. 1982.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Conversion: The Spiritual Journey of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim (1988, 2005) ISBN 1-59752-101-9


  • 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. ^ Flynn 1994 gives her birth name as "Kathleen", but this appears to be an error, see Krebs 1990 and other online sources.


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births
  2. ^ a b Muggeridge 1987.
  3. ^ Muggeridge 1972.
  4. ^ Flynn 1994.
  5. ^ Anonymous (i.e. Malcolm Muggeridge), "The Soviet and the Peasantry: An Observer's Notes; II. Hunger in the Ukraine", Manchester Guardian, 27 March 1933, p. 9.
  6. ^ Malcolm Muggeridge. Manchester Guardian. 27th March 1933. Soviet Famine exposure: The Soviet and the Peasantry. II. Hunger in the Ukraine, Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  7. ^ "BBC World Service - The Documentary, Useful Idiots, Episode 1". BBC. Retrieved 2020.
  8. ^ Haseler 1993, p. 30.
  9. ^ Krebs 1990.
  10. ^ Muggeridge Ancient And Modern, BBC
  11. ^ "No. 34853". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 May 1940. p. 3023.
  12. ^ "No. 35590". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 June 1942. p. 2545.
  13. ^ Holt 2007, p. 332.
  14. ^ Exiles Memorial Center.
  15. ^ Muggeridge, Ancient & Modern BBCTV
  16. ^ The Archive Hour, St Mugg, First broadcast BBC Radio 4, 19 April 2003
  17. ^ "The 1944 Chanel-Muggeridge Interview, Chanel's War".
  18. ^ "E.H. Shepard" Archived 4 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine,
  19. ^ Burros 1982.
  20. ^ "Booker Bulletin announcing Malcolm Muggeridge's resignation as judge". Booker Prize Archive, Special Collections. Oxford Brookes University. Retrieved 2020.
  21. ^ Rees 1980.
  22. ^ "Rallying for love and family life". Glasgow Herald. 12 July 1971.
  23. ^ Cleese and Palin relive the 1979 Life of Brian debate, BBC News
  24. ^ "Malcolm Muggeridge becomes Roman Catholic". UPI. Retrieved 2020.
  25. ^ Schmude, Karl (1 September 2016). "Malcolm Muggeridge, the journalist who met his match in Mother Teresa". The Catholic Weekly. Retrieved 2020.
  26. ^ "Malcolm Muggeridge's spiritual evolution". Retrieved 2020.
  27. ^ "Malcolm Muggeridge Society". Archived from the original on 24 October 2013. Retrieved 2007.
  28. ^ "Welsh hero of Ukraine recognized". BBC. 18 November 2009.
  29. ^ Eric Metaxas Radio Show, July 11, 2019 on YouTube
  30. ^ Buckley 1990.
  31. ^ "Happy Days Were Here Again". 24 September 1993. Retrieved 2019.
  32. ^ Seaton 2015.
  33. ^ Farmer 2015.


Further reading

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

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