Bernard Levin

British journalist, writer and broadcaster (1928–2004)

Bernard Levin (19 August 1928 – 7 August 2004) was an English journalist, author and broadcaster. He was best known for his columns about political and social issues which appeared in The Times.


  • I became a journalist by accident, and stayed one. Just as well; I have no other talent whatever, even in the most modest and rudimentary form. I can't paint or compose or write novels; I couldn't be a businessman or financier; I would be impossible as a teacher and a disaster as an actor.
    • "Farewell, my faithful friends", The Times (1 January 1990, from a 9 May 2007 reprint)
    • Levin was retiring his manual typewriter for a computer and a long cherished wristwatch.

The Pendulum Years (1970)

  • Stealthily the computer advanced, vanguard of the technological revolution, hailed as the cure for all mankind's ills and denounced as the baleful force which would first enslave and then destroy us all.
  • Political cynicism strode on, quickening its pace; and no wonder. Attempts were made from time to time to authorise the presence of television cameras in the House of Commons, to bring the sight of the legislature at work into the homes of the people, and thus forge stronger links between voters and voted-for, to the lasting benefit of both.

Enthusiasms (1983)

  • We live in a querulous age; more, we live in an age in which it is argued that to be happy is frivolous, and expecting to be happy positively childish.
  • My work, in which I have had much success, as the world counts success; the causes, great and small, in which I have laboured; the varied passions I have chronicled in this book; as soon as the comparison is made, the answer is plain.

Now Read On (1990)

  • As for trying to be funny — well, long ago the late Tom Driberg proposed that typographers should design a new face, which would slop the opposite way from italics, and would be called "ironics". In this type-face jokes would be set, and no-one would have any excuse for failing to see them. Until this happy development takes place, I am left with the only really useful thing journalism has taught me: that there is no joke so obvious that some bloody fool won't miss the point.
    • The Times (23 February 1982, as cited in Shady Characters, Keith Houston, 2013).
  • As I say, I know nothing of wheeler-dealers and their wheels. I do, however, know a little about human beings, and a lot about the English language, and I needed no more than that to button my back-pocket in case Mr Cornfeld went by.
    • "Do You Sincerely Want to be Swindled?", The Times (23 March 1989).
  • I said that although the customers of these shops are directly involved, ultimately it concerns everybody, and so it does. For it epitomises two tendencies in our world, and both of them are nasty.
    • "Invariably Upwards", The Times (20 November 1989).
  • But once upon a time, we could play shove ha'penny, and read a penny dreadful, and sing a song of sixpence, and take the King's shilling; and once upon a time even further in the past, five sparrows could be bought for two farthings, and yet not be forgotten. Somehow, the transaction would not have had the same effect if the sparrows had been sold for two pee.
    • "For Love or Money", The Times (27 November 1989).
  • It is the fact that the longing for freedom is not just embedded in every true soul's heart.
  • The explosion of peaceful, mass revolt which has ended Soviet rule from Berlin to Bucharest - and will shortly end it also from Lvov to Vladivostok - was set off not by the eloquence of charismatic leaders, not by hatred of the oppressors, not by hope of gain, but by that tiny yet searing flame which is in us all, and which no Niagara of oppression, hunger or torture can ever extinguish.
    • "From Spark to Furnace", The Times (26 December 1989).
  • But it is silly to brand liquor as the cause of alcoholic self-destruction, when far more deep-rooted psychological problems are responsible, with drink (and now, of course, drugs) being only the means.
    • "Of Ale", The Times (13 February 1990).
  • Come; if you were worried about your children eating too many things with sugar in them, because you feared it would harm their teeth, which would you do - stop the Mars bars or ensure that they brushed their teeth thoroughly? You would vote for the toothbrush? Well, the food-wowsers would vote the other way, and that is how you know them.
    • "Of Cakes", The Times (15 February 1990).

About Levin

  • Courageous, self-willed and frantically energetic, Levin holds strong views which he enunciates with unambiguous force.
  • Solzhenitsyn is certainly the hero of our time that Levin says he is, but it does no good for Levin to gush over him as if he were Kiri Te Kanawa. Just as Levin's admiration for Kiri Te Kanawa would count for more if he interrupted his praise of her undoubtedly gorgeous voice to point out that in Lieder concerts she has occasionally been known to sing a stanza with its lines in reverse order, so his admiration for Solzhenitsyn would count for more if he could entertain the possibility that Solzhenitsyn's challenging call for a unifying sense of purpose on the part of the free world is a contradiction in terms. If the free world had a unifying sense of purpose it would not be free.
  • He can no more say it short than A.J.P. Taylor can say it long. In the long sentences of Proust you can still hear the aphoristic tradition that started with Pascal. In the long sentences of Levin you can hear a tradition being forgotten.
    • Clive James "Bernard Levin: Book Two", London Review of Books, 1:4 (6 December 1979)
    • The book under review, Taking Sides (Cape), a collection of Levin's columns for The Times, was only the second book Levin published.
  • When he wrote that 1,500-word piece for The Times using just one full-stop, it wasn't to show off his command of syntax and semi-colons (well, maybe it was a little), but because that's how his brain worked: marshalling metaphors, highly selective facts, quixotic asides and fearless insults into a single, uninterruptible narrative that rolled on and on rather like his beloved Wagner's operas, but with considerably more jokes.
  • As a child he had been brought up in the grim backstreets of 1930s Somers Town (between St Pancras and Euston stations) by his mother and her parents — Jewish refugees from Lithuania. His father had walked out on them when Bernard was three. That early betrayal, I always felt, explained a lot about why he stayed a bachelor. It was as if he used his intellect to dazzle because he found it difficult to communicate, or commit, on an emotional level.
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