Walter Mitty enters the fray

Today’s Telegraph carries an interesting story on the latest development in the scandal regarding the Blair administration’s alleged role in the death of David Kelly: “Number 10 admits Walter Mitty slur on Kelly.”
According to the story, “Downing Street was forced to admit last night that a senior official [Blair’s personal spokesman Tom Kelly] had tried to discredit the Iraq weapons expert David Kelly [after Kelly’s death] by describing him as a Walter Mitty fantasist. The embarrassing climbdown came after No 10 had spent the day denying that the Prime Minister had authorised any attempt to undermine the credibility of the scientist, whose funeral takes place tomorrow[!].”
The commentary of Samizdata seethes with the kind of loathing of Blair that permeates coverage of Kelly’s death in the European media. Samizdata contributor Andy Duncan writes: “Sorry Tom, when I first caught this story I totally misheard it. I thought when I heard the words ‘Walter Mitty’ and ‘Downing Street’, together, it could only be one person you were talking about. You know, that blokey bloke, the one with the hair and the smile, the one who fantasises about taking over the world, the one who tells the world of his standing on the terraces at the Gallowgate End, his stowing away to the Caribbean, and a host of other fibs to try to make us like him more. Not to mention the never-ending lies and spin from his corrupt government power-grab machine, which started off with the Bernie Ecclestone saga, worked through to the undisputed NHS achievements, and went gone on to include the threat of weapons of mass destruction, in Iraq, all primed and ready to go off in a measly forty-five minutes. Plus, of course, we won’t even mention the endless slippery associations with other puff serial merchants like Peter Mandelson, Stephen Byers, and the lugubrious Peter Foster.
“I promise to forget the biggest planned lie of all, the one where Alastair Campbell leaves the government, to miraculously clear out the Augean stables of New Labour mendacity, which then presents us with a fresh new Mr Blair, a cleaned-up Mr Blair, and an un-spun Mr Blair, representing all that is Herculean and noble about the way, the light, and the truth of your fabulous and continuing reign of New Labour glory.”
Two questions. I read James Thurber’s story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” as a teen-ager in love with Thurber’s offbeat humor, but I have not heard or read a reference to Thurber or Walter Mitty in thirty years. Does anyone still read James Thurber? Does anyone still know who Walter Mitty is? The Telegraph account sheds no light on what seem to me the most interesting aspects of the story.
The Telegraph story reminds me that Blair is vacationing in Barbados at an estate owned by a gentleman I was astounded to see referred to in the British press as “Sir” Cliff Richard, the lightweight pop music contemporary of the Beatles. When last heard from in 1980, Sir Cliff was singing a lovely duet with Olivia Newton-John that charted at number 20 in the United States: “Suddenly.” Inspirational quote:
“The wheels are in motion
And I, I’m ready to sail any ocean
Suddenly I don’t need the answers
‘Cos I, I’m ready to take all my chances with you.”
HINDROCKET responds: Trunk, I don’t think many people are reading Thurber these days, but I do think a lot of people associate Walter Mitty with a rich fantasy life, sort of like they vaguely know that Simon Legree was mean even though they haven’t read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Lost in the shuffle, as usual, are the seemingly relevant questions of what Kelly said to the BBC reporter, Gilligan, and whether Gilligan’s claims, whatever their source, were true. We now know with reasonable certainty that Gilligan’s central claim–that Blair’s communications director inserted the 45-minute claim in the dossier–was false. As to the less important question whether Kelly was the source of the false claim, Kelly swore he wasn’t. But if he was, the spectacle of a nerdy biochemist pretending to be an intelligence expert when he wasn’t, and pretending to have had much to do with the preparation of the dossier when he didn’t, could reasonably bring Walter Mitty to mind.
But I, for one, have never heard of “Sir Cliff Richard.”


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