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A Private Life of Michael Foot

The late Michael Foot, once leader of the Labour party, lives on as a major figure in British political history, although he is best remembered as a fiery and eloquent standard-bearer for socialist beliefs and policies.

But what of the man behind the politics? In this new biography, Carl Rollyson chronicles the intricacies and intimacies of the life Michael Foot led away from the public eye. Fashioned from transcripts of more than two hundred conversations between author and subject that took place during three years Rollyson spent researching the life of Foot’s wife, Jill Craigie, this book presents a portrait that contrasts starkly with Foot’s public image. In the manner of Boswell, Rollyson presents us with a man who—for all his public oratory—in private often found himself lost for words.

A Private Life of Michael Foot adopts a no holds barred approach to biography, leaving a political figure stripped bare, and revealing a deeply complex, introverted man for all to see.

Michael Foot's fabulous library--no longer since his house has been gutted and remodeled
In Dubrovnik

This is a view of Dubrovnik I shot from Michael Foot's room at the Villa Dubrovnik. I joined MIchael there to meet his friends who were gathered to commemorate the life of Michael's wife Jill Craigie. Michael first came to Dubrovnik in the mid 1970s when he was a government minister. He was invited by the Yugoslav government, but he refused to come unless they allowed him to address their Central Committee. He wanted to protest their treatment of his friend Milovan Djilas, a prominent dissident. At one time Michael thought of writing a book about Djilas. The Central Committee agreed to hear Michael's protest. Then he discovered Dubrovnik and with Jill he returned for holidays. They used to go to Venice, but liked the more compact Dubrovnik, and then Jill discovered a thriving community of artists. She collected a good deal of art there and put it on the walls of the Hampstead home. Then at Jill's instigation they made a film about the Serb attacks on Dubrovnik. The film is Two Hours From London (available on youtube). I write about the film in To Be A Woman: The Life of Jill Craigie and in my new book, A Private Life of Michael Foot. In Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West, another one of my biographical subjects, called Dubrovnik, a city on a coin. I think this photograph shows what she means.

I've been reading obituaries of Denis Healey, who just died in his sleep at home. He was 98. He was a Labour Party stalwart, a Cabinet minister in Harold Wilson's government, deputy leader when Michael Foot became head of the party in 1980. Healey had lost by ten votes to Foot, and then Healey was elected by a narrow margin over Tony Benn, who then was to the left of both Healey and Foot. It was a raucous time for the Labour Party, with a contingent called "Militant" composed of Trotskyists. Neil Kinnock who succeeded Foot made war on Militant and many of them were expelled form the party. Some fear the Labour Party is returning to the so-called bad old days with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. I doubt it. In the early 80s the party split, but now no one, so far as I can tell, wants that. Healey and Foot set a good example, working together well, even though they disagreed on certain key issues. I had long talks with Michael about his leadership, and he was full of praise for Healey. Of all the Labour Party leaders I met or talked to during my work on a biography of Michael's wife, Jill Craigie, and then on A Private Life of Michael Foot, my talk with Healey was the most enjoyable. He was engaging and friendly and amused when I asked him if his wife, Edna, was fond of Michael. I had read somewhere that Michael might have been more successful if he had married Edna. I told Healey that, and he laughed. Then he turned to his wife and asked her (this was on the phone), and he reported, "Edna says she was not Michael's type." I felt I could ask Healey anything, and he wouldn't be offended. He seemed that genuine--just like Michael, in fact.