Britain’s First Oil Tycoon - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Britain’s First Oil Tycoon

Get-Memoir-Algy-Cluff/dp/152620150X">Get On With It: A Memoir
Algy Cluff
(Cluff & Sons, 208 pages, £15)*

Is it possible that a young English boy, born in 1940, while the war drums were being beaten around the world, can grow up pretty much a loner whose only sure love was books, and become a gregarious entrepreneur with holdings around the world one of which was the Spectator of London? I now know he can. Get On With It is the title of the memoir of Algy Cluff, a man I do not know though I have been interested in him for years. He saved the Spectator at some expense to himself. He made, lost, and made again a fortune, while making friends around the world, one of them being Lady Thatcher.

In this lively book, which readers of The American Spectator should find of great interest, Cluff demonstrates that entrepreneurship was not restricted to post-war America and that it was not surprising that a Thatcher revolution hit Britain some years before a Reagan revolution sprang from our shores. I have long been aware that a robust libertarian conservatism existed in Britain even before it took root here. Cluff reminds us of its reality. He was a conservative even before the editor-in-chief of The American Spectator was conservative, and before I journeyed to London in the 1970s to find conservatives in the offices of the Telegraph papers and in the great universities, for instance, Michael Oakeshott and Kenneth Minogue.

Cluff has known anyone who was anyone in London’s conservative circles and even on the left. In the mid-1960s he ran as a Tory for the Labour seat held by Leslie Lever, “an amazing figure,” writes Cluff, “so awful that I quite liked him.… My own politics were those of the Romantic Tory and my interests were confined to defense and foreign affairs.” Cluff lost, which was to the good. It eventually set him off on a serious pursuit of wealth, of the life of the mind, and of journalism. He puts me in mind of some of the very best businessmen I have known in our country. Cluff was a pioneer in exploring North Sea oil, leading to the immensely profitable Buchan Field. Then he set his sights on developing gold mines and other mineral reserves in such places as Burkino Faso, Ghana, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. He was quite high-minded in Africa and there are scenes in this book with the tyrant Robert Mugabe that suggests to me he was lucky to get out alive.

Yet it is his proprietorship of the Spectator that most engaged my interest. He bought the magazine when Cluff Oil was buoyant and the Spectator’s fortunes were at an ebb. Soon Cluff Oil’s fortunes were too. But Cluff stuck by the magazine. He knew that a magazine is not a mere commodity. It is a conveyor of ideas, of ideals, of principles and hopefully of laughter, and it is a place where generations of writers and of public persons get their training. It is a cultural institution. Cluff is a civilized man.

Though he began unsteadily in his role as a magazine proprietor, thinking “Part of that role… should involve the determination of policy…. I could not have been more wrong. I learnt this lesson when I dispatched a memorandum to [the magazine’s editor] proposing that there should be more coverage of the Far East.” Cluff’s memorandum appeared unceremoniously in the magazine’s correspondence column. Yet he brought in a half a dozen great editors and oversaw hundreds of gifted writers, for if he stayed as proprietor for only five years he stayed as chairman of the Board for 25 years. He witnessed at least two libel suits against the magazine because of a rastaquouère this magazine shares with the Spectator of London, Taki — I thank the stars that we do not share Britain’s libel laws.

In this book you will read of Cluff’s many adventures in business and as proprietor and chairman of one of the world’s great journalistic institutions. You will read of his keys to successful entrepreneurship: 1) decisiveness, 2) have energy and imagination, 3) be resilient, and 4) practice good manners — how very British. Moreover, you will have a rollicking good time.

*Copies of Algy Cluff’s book, “Get On With It,” are now available in the U.S. 

Please e-mail or telephone:
Mary Anne Huisman
Marston Webb International
270 Madison Ave., Ste. 1203
New York, NY  10016
T: (212) 684-6601

Cost:  $23.09 (includes postage)

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
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R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief ofThe American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: The Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn’t Work: Social Democracy’s Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery. He makes frequent appearances on national television and is a nationally syndicated columnist, whose articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, National Review, Harper’s, Commentary, The (London) Spectator, Le Figaro (Paris), and elsewhere. He is also a contributing editor to the New York Sun.
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