When I was up at Oxford, a satirical fellow student rewrote the words of One More River To Cross as “The Pakenhams came in two by two, Vive la Bourgeoisie.” This was little short of lèse-majesté. Anglo-Irish aristocrats and Catholics, the Pakenhams were obviously very different from the highly regarded Bloomsbury coterie of highbrow insiders but nonetheless were potentially the next wave in the cultural life of Britain.

Frank Pakenham, the seventh Earl of Longford, was an Oxford don, a conservative turned socialist out of determination to love anyone who didn’t love him. “Frank Pakenham: mental age twelve” was the verdict of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who nonetheless had him in the cabinet. In a book with the title Humility, he devoted a chapter to the fact that he had...

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