March 24, 1903 - November 14, 1990
From Sanderstead, Surrey, England
Served in London, England
"The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realise, is to feel ourselves to be at home here on earth."
Malcolm Muggeridge, a prolific British journalist and caustic social critic, died yesterday in a nursing home in Sussex, England. He was 87 years old.
His lawyer, Vernor Miles, said Mr. Muggeridge had never fully recovered from a stroke he suffered three years ago.
Possessing an impeccable prose style and an unerring sense of the absurd, Mr. Muggeridge delighted in outraging the Establishment and impaling the pompous on the lance of his lethally keen wit.
A foreign correspondent for The Guardian, a top editor of The Daily Telegraph and the editor of Punch credited with rescuing that famed humor magazine from a longstanding literary lethargy in the 1950's, Mr. Muggeridge, late in life, became a celebrated television personality and globe-trotting lecturer. Nowhere along the line, however, did he cast off his reputation as a man of paradox. From Admiration to Scorn
For example, from his youth he was a great admirer of the Soviet Union, and in the 1930's he went there with the idea of staying, but he soon became one of the country's harshest critics. And, over the years, a scornful distrust for the "ordinariness" of religion became a zealous attachment to nondenominational Christianity based solidly in traditional moral values.
Religiously reverent as some of his views became, Mr. Muggeridge did not, in writing style, cease being outrageously irreverent. He delightedly described Cambridge, where he received a master's degree, as "a place of infinite tedium," and in the mid-1960's his caustic attacks on the British monarchy lost him several writing jobs and nearly ended his career with the British Broadcasting Corporation. His opinion of world leaders was summed up pithily: "Everything that politicians say is without exception void -- utterly empty."
Malcolm Thomas Muggeridge was born on March 24, 1903, in the London suburb of Croydon. He and his four brothers were drilled in socialist ideas by their father, Henry, a lawyer's clerk who eventually becam a Laborite Member of Parliament.
Consistent with his egalitarian socialist beliefs, the elder Mr. Muggeridge refused to send his sons to Eton or Harrow or Charter House, but rather to local elementary and secondary schools. These were presided over, Mr. Muggeridge recalled later, by a "bizarre collection of aged and incompetent teachers" and "I emerged unscathed and largely unlettered." Most Reluctantly, A Science Student
His early education forced Mr. Muggeridge, at Selwyn College, Cambridge, to concentrate on scientific studies, "chemistry, physics, zoology, despite the fact I had no interest in them, and only the scantiest knowledge of them," he wrote in 1972.
"Four years at Cambridge did little to alter this situation," he said. "I managed to scrape up a pass degree, but have never opened a book or thought about any of my three subjects from that day to this."
Because he had also taken some education courses, Mr. Muggeridge, when he rceived his degree in 1923, joined the staff of Union Christian College in South India. There, he said, he did his best to foment student nationalism, "to help them recover the freedom that was their birthright."
Back in England in 1927, he married Katherine Dobbs, a niece of Beatrice and Sydney Webb, the Fabian Socialist leaders, who approved of him but of not his admiration for the Bolshevik Revolution. The Muggeridges had three sons and a daughter. Roundabout Making Of a Man of Letters
While teaching at the University of Cairo in the late 1920's, Mr. Muggeridge wrote several articles on Egypt's struggle for national liberation for The Manchester Guardian, which he considered the most progressive newspaper in the world.
He soon joined its reporting staff, and he also began to review books, an occupation that he pursued for many publications for the rest of his life. In 1931, his play "Three Flats" was a London success, and that, along with his novel "Autumnal Face," launched him as a man of letters.
The Guardian's posting of Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge to Moscow in 1932 struck the two youthful socialists as being "a wondrous development," he was to recall, and secretly they intended to remain in the Soviet Union forever, even going so far as to jettison bourgeois trappings like their marriage license and university degrees and their evening clothes.
Communism, though, quickly proved to be a god that failed for Mr. Muggeridge, who was appalled in Moscow to see his Guardian dispatches heavily censored and to encounter evidence of new political purges in the making.
Furthermore, he said, his Guardian editors watered down the truthful dispatches he managed to get through, particularly those about the famine of 1932, and so, in 1933, in utter contempt of the Soviet Union and The Guardian, the Muggeridges returned home. He disgustedly quit his job and wrote a best-seller, "Winter in Moscow," which infuriated his old friends on the left because it mercilessly attacked the Soviet system.
In the 1930's Mr. Muggeridge was assistant editor for The Calcutta Statesman for 15 months, wrote a gossip column for The London Evening Standard, contributed weekly book reviews to The Daily Telegraph, and wrote a scathing biography, "Earnest Atheist: A Study of Samuel Butler." He also wrote the tender "In a Valley of This Restless Mind," on the understanding of love that came to him when his wife, Kitty, fell seriously ill.
During World War II, Mr. Muggeridge worked for military intelligence as a spy in Portuguese Africa, an experience that he found "absurd and degrading" enough to impel a halfhearted suicide attempt by drowning.
But, sent from Africa to liberated Paris, he took solace in easing the lot of several well-known people, including the comic novelist P. G. Wodehouse, who had been falsely accused of collaborating with the Germans during the war. "It was the only worthwhile thing I did in the war," he said.
For The Daily Telegraph, in the late 1940's, Mr. Muggeridge served as the newspaper's chief Washington correspondent, then returned to London to be its deputy editor. A Foray Into Humor
In 1953, Punch magazine departed from tradition and named an outsider, Mr. Muggeridge, as its editor. He remained there four years, a period during which Punch sharpened its satirical bite, printed controversial editorials, and became a literary magazine featuring the work of noted British writers. Mr. Muggeridge also introduced brilliant parodies, such as a four-page insert entitled "Her" that lampooned popular women's magazines.
In 1957, weary of "trying to discover what, if anything, was funny," Mr. Muggeridge left Punch and began to devote much of his time to television, as a globe-trotting interviewer and documentary maker, while turning out dozens of articles and book reviews for many publications, including Esquire and The Saturday Evening Post.
It was a 1957 article for The Saturday Evening Post, titled "Does England Really Need a Queen?," which stirred up an international furor. He called the monarchy "a royal soap opera" and maintained that "insofar as there is criticism of the monarchy, it comes from the higher rather than the lower social echelons. It is duchesses, not shop assistants, who find the Queen dowdy, frumpish and banal. The appeal of monarchy is to the gallery rather than the stalls."
Mr. Muggeridge's caustic remarks nearly cost him his job as a popular television personality for the BBC.
His views, never benign, seemed to grow more iconoclastic and controversial with the years.
He wrote that Dwight D. Eisenhower was "a meandering old President," and, in 1965, while the assassination of John F. Kennedy was still a raw wound on the American psyche, he wrote in The New York Review of Books: "I have just pushed aside, I confess with mounting distaste, a pile of Kennedyana on which I had been browsing. Graveyard, or memorial, prose is among the least edifying and least pleasing forms of human composition. There is a prevailing flavor of syrupy insincerity, an affectation of wholehearted truthfulness, amounting to the worst kind of deception, which sickens as it surfeits. Anyone acquainted with the late President knows perfectly well that the legendary image of him so assiduously propagated bears little or no relation to his true self." Living in a World He Didn't Like
It often seemed that in every direction he turned, Mr. Muggeridge saw folly and absurdity. He observed that much of life was theater, "and cheap melodrama at that," and he insisted that he "never greatly cared for the world or felt particularly at home in it."
He excoriated the erosion of traditional moral values, noting that man was trying to escape reality by "normalizing" drug use, abortion and pornography. In Mr. Muggeridge's view, the liberalization of the Roman Catholic Church resulting from Vatican I and Vatican II was to be deplored, as Christianity's greatest strength was its "pessimism."
In his 60's Mr. Muggeridge began to write extensively about his evolving, highly individualistic form of Christianity, and he liked to describe himself as "a Jesus freak."
His book "Jesus Reconsidered" was published in 1969, and his other books included "Something Beautiful for God (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)," "Jesus: The Man Who Loves," "Christ and the Media," and "A Third Testament."
Mr. Muggeridge also wrote and appeared in several religion-oriented television documentaries, notably an American Public Broadcasting Service six-part series on the lives and teachings of "six characters in search of God" -- St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, William Blake, Soren Kierkegaard, Tolstoy and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
In the first volume of Mr. Muggeridge's much-admired and acerbicly titled autobiography, "Chronicles of Wasted Time," he said he had been "interested all my life in priests, clergy, monks, nuns, evangelists," and added: "Perhaps I should have been one; I like to think a monk notable for his austerities, the voice of one crying in the wilderness; but more probably a tiresome Unitarian in Walsall who writes incessantly to the local paper."
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