LADDIE LUCAS

CRECY CONTINUES TO release a steady flow of new editions of past war memoirs. This one first published in 1978 stands out by virtue of the diversity in the author's talents and the variety in his career, which was spread over a long, active life.

CRECY CONTINUES TO release a steady flow of new editions of past war memoirs. This one first published in 1978 stands out by virtue of the diversity in the author's talents and the variety in his career, which was spread over a long, active life (Lucas died in 1998). His wartime experience as a fighter pilot the name Laddie Lucas will always be linked with Malta and Spitfires is set in the context of early life as a golf mad young man, time as a Fleet Street sports writer and then, post RAF, a decade in office as a Conservative MP. The book concludes with the years spent managing the Greyhound Racing Association (the commercial concern that owned a number of dog tracks and the White City stadium).

I cannot say Lucas's passion for golf made a convert of this reviewer. However, his love of the game and nostalgia for the original Prince's Club, which was run by his father, are compelling in their own way. Lucas played at a high level and knew or met many of the famous personalities pre and postwar. He draws some nice pen sketches of these people and the places they played at; devotees of the sport will find much of interest here, no doubt.

Playing golf and writing about the game as an undergraduate was the springboard to Lucas’s pre-war career with the Sunday Express. He was almost instinctively, as I read it a great admirer of the paper's proprietor, Lord Beaverbrook. (On this point, it is interesting to compare Lucas's glowing opinion of 'The Beaver' with the rather less flattering but surely more objective view of the man given by the late historian and MP, Alan Clarke, in The Tories a recently published history of the Conservative Party from 1922 to 1997.)

Lucas says nothing about his Air Force training in Five Up. Instead, in the mid section of the book, he takes the reader straight to the air battle for Malta. The narrative is old fashioned and Lucas's standpoint tends to be rather Establishment, but he still reveals that the Mediterranean theatre was regarded as a dumping ground by the RAF back home. Despite the island's strategic value and the fact that the Luftwaffe and Reggia Aeronautica were close to finishing off the British presence there, the readiness to post a pilot to Malta was inversely proportional to his perceived value to the RAF. To his credit, Lucas himself appreciated the talents of true 'pilots' pilots' and loose cannon such as George Beurling, and he was instrumental in melding such characters into a formidable fighting force, of which he was very proud.

Indeed, one of the most pleasurable things about Five Up is the way its author is so quick to praise other people's virtues, and the determined effort he makes to ensure that notable individuals who would otherwise be consigned to the footnotes of history get just mention in his own account. You begin to realise that you are reading the words of a decent and honourable man…

After the war, Lucas became a Tory MP on his second attempt. As with Beaverbrook, affinity for the Conservative cause seems to have been more instinctive than considered. Indeed, Lucas's account of the hustings and, later, goings on in Westminster is essentially apolitical something else you can easily like him for.

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However, less enjoyable is his long and detailed account in the last part of the book of involvement in the GRA, and that company's decline as a result of ill advised borrowing to fund a development scheme (or perhaps the less than honourable actions of the lenders). Perhaps Lucas felt he should justify his and his fellow director's actions, but the financial and legal wranglings involved do not exactly make stimulating reading.

The final chapters shouldn't put prospective readers off, though. In the final analysis Five Up is a well written, balanced autobiography and its subject is an outstanding member of what appears, at times, to be a fast vanishing breed gentlemen blessed with genuine integrity