John Freeman, who died yesterday at the ripe old age of ninety nine, was a compellingly strange man – multiple accounts testify to a certain remarkable opacity about him; he was not a man to reveal his true self (whatever that was) even to close colleagues, let alone random strangers. Reading some recollections it is hard not to think of matryoshka dolls – with a career so diverse and so varied as to be actively bizarre. He was sucessively a Labour MP (1945-55 for Watford; he ended up as the last survivor of the 1945 Parliament) and a junior minister in the Attlee government (he resigned along with Bevan and Wilson over the introduction of prescription charges), a television journalist notable above all for his interviews, the editor of The New Statesman, a senior diplomat (first as British High Commissioner in India, then as the British Ambassador in the United States), and then as a television executive at LWT in the 1970s and 1980s. The idealistic Socialist who resigned from the most left-wing government in British history because it was not left-wing enough ended his career as an advocate of free markets and corporate managerialism. There may well be a decent film script to be made from that.
I would argue (and this is hardly a controversial opinion) that his primary legacy (so much else was but a reflection – in a well polished surface it shold be acknowledged- of whatever else was going on at the time) are the interviews that he conducted for the BBC programme Face to Face in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Many of them are on YouTube and all are worth watching, even if they do not always make for easy viewing. For while Freeman was himself as opaque and impenetrable as obsidian, he had a knack of getting into the heads of others. The results could sometimes be disturbing to witness; most famously in the case of his interview with Tony Hancock:
Infinitely less disturbing is his interview with Carl Jung, which is a thing of surreal and beguiling charm and thus a good note on which to conclude: