OrnaVerum
v 5.10.00
6 Oct 2018
updated 17 Nov 2019

John (Jock) Halcro Ferguson
(10 Apr 1920 – 5 Jul 1968)

There are several references to Jock's rather unsettled early life elsewhere in the Family unit – Puir Dwaiblie Bodies and The Hampstead Years, for instance, but other existing material is now relocated to this profile – quite rightly, indeed, as Jock was a remarkable individual in his own right, by all accounts.

Schooldays

Despite Lewis' frequent absences on business in Glasgow and Meg's steady descent into an emotional and alcoholic vortex, they managed between them to identify a succession of three very good schools for Jock to attend. It was of course then for Jock's guardian Sir John Cameron to decide on a suitable public school for him, and family opinion was unanimous that this was an excellent choice.

By courtesy of St Catharine's College Archives:

His education before arriving at St Catharine's was:

Heath Mount School,1,  2 Hampstead (1926 – July 1929)
P.N.E.U.1,  2 School,1,  2,  A Burgess Hill, Sussex (Sept 1929 – April 1930)
Abinger Hill School,1,  2 (see p15 et seq) Holmbury Saint Mary, Surrey (May 1930 – Dec 1933)
Stowe School,1,  2 Buckingham (Jan 1934 – April 1938)

A Note that in its early days Burgess Hill School did also accept boys, and that later on the school decided to drop the idealistic PNEU (Parents' National Education Union) educational charter as being no longer appropriate in a competitive world, though retaining Charlotte Mason's resolute motto "I am, I can, I ought, I will"

St Catharine's College Cambridge

By courtesy of St Catharine's College Archives:

John Halcro Ferguson matriculated at St Catharine's College on 2nd November 1938. He studied English, and completed Part I of the Tripos in June 1940 (with 2nd class honours). He then began Part II of the Tripos, doing one term in Modern Languages (French and Dutch). At the end of this term he was called up for War Service. In December 1940 he became a Private, R.A.M.C., Service no. 7391410. He was discharged on medical grounds in February 1941 (a letter written to his English tutor notes that this was due to problems with his sight, "myopia, astigmatism").

.....

After the War, he did not return to Cambridge but applied to the College for a War degree. He had not completed his studies and had resided for 7 of the 9 terms usually required for a degree. His application was approved by the University Board and he attended the Congregation to receive his B.A. on 6 December 1947.

Lover of Latin America

Jock's love affair with Latin America was sparked by a mission undertaken during the Second World War:

By courtesy of St Catharine's College Archives:

From February 1941 - September 1946 he did civilian war service: 'Temporary Secretary employed by the Foreign Office in London and South America.'

In his letter to his tutor he writes that he spent time in Buenos Aires and Bogota. Of the latter he writes "There I liked both the place and the people", and writes of "travelling down to B.A. [from Bogota] by road and rail through Ecuador, Peru and Chile, a fascinating journey".

I don't know how or where he served his journalistic apprenticeship after 1946, and it might well be difficult to track it down. So we must pick up the trail later on, when he had become an accomplished and established foreign correspondent from Central and South America.



21 Apr 1949 visa for Brazil via Rio de Janeiro


19 Jul 1952 visa for Brazil via Rio de Janeiro


8 Nov 1961 visa for Brazil via Rio de Janeiro

Marital Matters

As the youthful Mozart once remarked in a letter to his father on the subject of marriage, "The voice of nature speaks as loud in me as in others, louder, perhaps, than in many a big strong lout of a fellow." And Somerset Maugham referred not infrequently in his stories to the intensification of a consumptive's libido. The point I'm making is that despite Jock's lifelong frailty of health, his natural instincts seem to have spoken louder than most.

The Ferguson tabulation shows him as having been married (at least) three times.

The second and third occasions can be verified by official UK certification, as linked from the tabulation, but the first occasion is only indirectly indicated, by the certificate of his second marriage in 1953 showing his "Condition" to be "Previous marriage dissolved".

Further evidence is available from the Brazilian visas displayed hereinabove. The official language in Brazil is of course Portuguese,

  • Estado civil = marital status
  • Casado = married
  • Solteiro (or Solt.) = unmarried

We see that in 1949 and 1961 he was recorded as married, but in 1952 he was recorded as unmarried. This tallies with his first marriage being terminated at some point between 1949 and 1952, and we know he was remarried in 1953.

We know also that he was married for the third time in 1957 (so the second marriage had terminated between 1953 and 1957), which tallies with the 1961 marital status as 'casado'.

The lack of UK certification seems to point to his first marriage being impulsively undertaken abroad, presumably in South or Central America. I have no idea at the moment as to how any reliable further details could be obtained.

The Ladybird in the Typewriter

The anecdote below readily confirms that Jock Ferguson was an adventurous and hard-drinking individualist, equally at home in a Fleet Street bar as in the least hospitable corners of South America, accepted and admired as such by his journalistic colleagues.

www.gentlemenranters.com/

The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times

Issue # 225, 16 December 2011:

Talking turkey
By Alan Whittaker

Alan Whittaker

It was a scene worthy of a Christmas card. The advance flakes of the next snow flurry glittered ominously above the street lamps enhancing the seasonal decorations displayed by two of Fleet Street's most venerable trading enterprises. The grey pre-war holly wreath had once more been resurrected from the cellar and now adorned the entrance to Mick's Cafe while a delicate necklace of red and green fairy lights added a chic Parisian touch to the Durex display in Hancock's window.

Ian Watson-Jones, who had served 20 something years as copy taster on the Evening Standard and the much lamented Star before joining the News of the World, reckoned we could just make it to the back bar of the Harrow before the snow thickened. He also surmised that the sole occupant of the bar so early in the evening would be John Halcro Ferguson, the Observer's Latin America guru. 'And I bet you a large Scotch he mentions South America within two minutes,' said Jonah. I rashly accepted the bet.

Sure enough the only person lurking in the back bar was JHF. 'It's turning into a blizzard, Fergie,' said Jonah amiably as he slipped out of his overcoat. 'Indeed it is,' replied the sage of South America. 'Reminds me of a dreadful night I spent in Patagonia...'

Ian glanced at his watch and smiled. 'Fifty seven seconds,' he said. 'It took him some time to get into his stride but I'll have a Grouse.'
...

According to my father, Jock was ill-adapted to the normal social conventions of everyday life, and from his early years onwards gained a reputation for personal – and professional – eccentricity. This is illustrated by the following anecdote relating to his interview technique with the notoriously impatient and quick-tempered Dom Mintoff.

www.guardian.co.uk/media/2002/jun/09/theobserver.pressandpublishing

The Observer observed

Katharine Whitehorn
The Observer, Sunday 9 June 2002

...
'It was a court,' says Observer veteran Michael Davie. 'It was collegiate - everything came back to David [Astor, the then proprietor].' Throughout the Fifties and Sixties he surrounded himself with further eccentrics: Ken Tynan, the first man to spot the Kitchen Sink genius of the fiery John Osborne, J Halcro Ferguson, who once kept the Prime Minister of Malta waiting on a pile of newspapers for 10 minutes while he tried to get a ladybird out of his typewriter without hurting it. 'David,' said O'Donovan, 'is the only normal man on the paper and it looks as if the effort is killing him.' (It didn't: he was nearly 90 when he died last year).
...

Jock was also a renowned authority on South American politics and social matters, and as J Halcro Ferguson was the author of several academic publications:

the last of these being commissioned by the Time-Life series about life and customs around the world (apologies for the less-than-pristine cover displayed):

the-river-plate-republics

But Jock's health had never been good, and the journalistic profession has always been notoriously arduous, stressful and hard-drinking, so he wasn't destined to reach retirement age. But he was a legend in his own lifetime.

I'm very grateful to my cousin Simon Potter for the following transcriptions:

The Times (8 July 1968)

FERGUSON – On Friday, July 5, 1968, at his home, Payne's Green House, Ockley, Surrey, JOCK HALCRO FERGUSON husband of Valerie and for 20 years Latin-American Correspondent of The Observer. Cremation at Randalls Park Crematorium, Leatherhead, Surrey, 10 July, at 12 noon.

The Observer (7 July 1968. page 6)

Halcro had a train to catch
By John Gale

J. HALCRO FERGUSON, for 20 years Latin American correspondent of The Observer, died on Friday aged 48.

'Jock Ferguson invented Latin America for the ignorant British' someone once said. It was no exaggeration: for Jock was almost certainly the first British journalist to write regularly about Latin America, which he first came to know while serving in British Embassies in Argentina and Colombia, during World War II. He wrote several books about Latin America, and to the last was planning more – the day before he died, he asked his wife to call this office to say he was most interested in the prospective reforms in north-east Brazil. Would our correspondent there report on them and send him a copy of the story?

'He was the one person that kept interest in the place alive,' said Mr Emanuel de Kadf, a specialist in Latin American affairs at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

While never blind to the faults of Latin American countries, Jock identified with them and took pride in their freedom form racial problems and in the fact that on the whole they were developing politically by evolution rather than revolution.

Yet only towards the end of his life, with the rise of the Che Guevara cult, did people really notice Latin America. This saddened him somewhat. Although he believed there must be a way of speeding up the Latin American process of attaining democracy, he did not think this should be Guevara's way; he believed there were alternatives to violence.

He saw, reluctantly, that Castro's Cuba was not the New Eldorado, and he saw it from the point of view of the man in the street short of bread or beer. He also understood Latin American grievances about the United States, without being in the slightest anti-North American.

Kind to all things

Jock knew barmen and presidents. He listened to both, and filed their tales in his capacious memory – 'his address book,' someone says, 'was fantastic.' He saw the world as one, and would compare the problems of the Peruvian postman with those of his counterpart in Surrey. He was also a fine linguist; he must have been one of the few Englishmen ever to have lectured in Holland in Dutch. He could sing the National Anthem in six languages.

At a time of acute British-American disagreement over policies on Cuba, Arthur Schlesinger jnr, President Kennedy's adviser, came to The Observer to explain the American case. Jock argued as much as he listened for a good half hour, then looked at his watch and with disarming, almost absent-minded, innocence: 'I'm sorry, I have a train to catch,' and vanished. He believed in routine, and loved to get home to his wife Valerie. Pressed for an urgent last-minute article on that same Cuban crisis, Jock, who was very short-sighted, postponed finishing the piece so that he could, with great difficulty, extract a small ladybird from his typewriter. He was kind to all things.

I once entered Jock's office to find him doodling at length, watched by a small dark, alert man, who was passing the time of day. When Jock had finished his doodle, he looked up, gestured to the small dark man, and said. 'Oh, by the way, I want you to meet the Prime Minister of Malta, I think it's time we took him for a drink.'

Jock was a strange combination of the sombre and the happy. He was frail and brave. We shall not forget him.

Hey you, Get off, Macleod

Constitutionally frail, and temperamentally good-humoured, Ferguson could nevertheless get proper cross on occasion, as in the archive item that follows.

Quoodle was in fact the nom de plume of Ian Macleod, who had resigned from the Cabinet in October 1963 after Alec Douglas-Home had emerged as the new Prime Minister following Harold Macmillan's resignation due to illness. Macleod then became editor of the contrarianly conservative Spectator for a while.

G K Chesterton's Song of Quoodle seems to be a canine declamation about humans' vastly inferior sense of smell, and how our lives are thereby impoverished, and includes an unfortunately typical side-swipe at Jews. Quoodle himself was a dog‡‡ that featured in Chesterton's whimsical novel The Flying Inn, and it's very hard to see why Macleod should have chosen the name as his alias. There's also a great deal of oodling in chapter XII of Bleak House, which might be relevant too.

Cutting to the chase, Quoodle had obviously seriously annoyed Ferguson in a criticism of an article or book about Cuba that the latter had just published ...

archive.spectator.co.uk/article/15th-january-1965/13/winston-castro

15 JANUARY 1965, Page 13

Winston Castro

SIR,

What is Quoodle (if it really is Quoodle and not some gremlin) so upset about?

He can hardly accuse me of writing 'an apologia for the [Cuban] regime', when he goes on to list everything he thinks wrong with it, all culled from my Observer article, and, as he underlines, reproducing what I saw with my own eyes (myopic as I may be, I'm not accustomed to using other people's).

I am sure Quoodle doesn't see any parallel between Fidel and Churchill, but many Cubans do. And he's welcome to put Fidel in quotes if he likes, but Cubans don't. It's the man's name. The country, whatever may be alleged, does not seem like a military dictatorship; it seems like a country at war, which is not the same thing. It also seems like a country under a blockade, which it is). I've lived under a military dictatorship (Perón's in Argentina) and it was very different. Fear was almost tangible; no one dared open his mouth.

In Cuba, on the other hand, my wife and I spent a day with a charming and witty self-styled gusano (worm or anti-revolutionary), who drove us around in his car, invited us to tea (Liptons, and borrowed from the local Leyland bus representative), and condemned Castro and all his works to all who would listen, in private and in public, concentrating his fire on a Communist doctor. In Perón's Argentina he'd have been arrested; in Nazi Germany he'd probably have been dead. But after six years of such self-expression he's alive and free.

I quite agree with Quoodle's remarks on the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution. I said they were 'probably the least desirable feature of the regime, and much disliked.' I couldn't have been much plainer than that. But their vigilance and unpopularity do vary from place to place. Even our witty worm friend admitted it, although he blames them for anything, including a burglary and the breaking of one of the headlights of his car (for which he could better blame the police, whose job is defending the citizen rather than the revolution, or better still the burglars and the headlamp-breakers).

To bring in the Gestapo is fantastic, and to refer to Jews in concentration camps even more so. Possibly the most positive achievement of the Castro regime has been the elimination of racial discrimination. If religion is concerned, Quoodle is welcome (if he doesn't believe me) to consult the Papal Nuncio in Havana or the representative of the World Council of Churches who was in Cuba when we were, and not for the first time.

'Marxist-Leninist tyranny' - well, it's a fine evocative phrase which might make anyone tremble. True enough, the Cubans call their system Marxist-Leninism, but I doubt if Marx or Lenin would recognise it, or if most Cubans (for better or for worse) know what they mean by it.

And I see nothing 'wet' in refraining from bandying about words like 'tyranny,' which might be reserved for regimes which merit them - of which there are doubtless enough, on both sides of the somewhat perforated Iron Curtain, for Quoodle to castigate one a week if he wants to. But it might be a good idea for him to visit the countries concerned before he decides to denounce them. Oh, and so I'm a Stalinist. Well, well! Stalin must be pretty posthumously surprised.

The Observer, EC4

J. HALCRO FERGUSON

Or as a lovelorn Highland shepherd would say to his rival, "Hey Macleod, get off of my ewe". A regrettable example of Eboracus' earthy sense of humour.

‡‡

Just to complicate matters further, Quoodle was the name of one of GK's beloved Scotch terriers; see Michael Coren, Gilbert, The Man who was G K Chesterton; publ Jonathan Cape 1989; p180.

Encouragingly, Coren (though partly Jewish, and almost as religiously complicated as GK himself) defends Chesterton against the charge of anti-semitism.