On the Back of an Envelope

Peter Hennessy with Polly Coupar-Hennessy

As one of Britain’s foremost constitutional experts and contemporary historians, Peter Hennessy has spent his professional life unpicking the arcane world of Whitehall and Westminster. He began his career as a journalist on The Times, the Economist, and the Financial Times, developing a network of contacts who helped him to shine a light on some of the dustiest corners of the British establishment. As a journalist, prize-winning contemporary historian and political commentator, he has chronicled the workings of the British state with wit, affection and a healthy sense of the absurd over a five-decade career. Now a crossbench peer, he has, in his own words, ‘moved in with his exhibits’. Hennessy is also a stalwart of BBC election night coverage, and a regular commentator on Radio 4, bringing a historical and constitutional perspective on current events.

In this new volume, he brings together selected journalism, unpublished lectures and new writing alongside personal recollections on his time observing post-war Britain, how it is governed and those who do the governing. He reflects on the making and unmaking of Prime Ministers from Attlee to Truss, life in the House of Lords, and the changing constitutional landscape in the wake of Brexit and in the midst of uncertainty about the Union. Interspersed with lectures, journalism, and new pieces, Hennessy looks back at a fascinating career, reflecting on his own experiences as a green young graduate navigating the hard-nosed world of Fleet Street in the 1970s, bringing to life a cast of characters from a world now largely gone. He also revisits his time as a public historian, academic and crossbench peer with a levity reflected in his belief that history is ‘gossip with footnotes’.

PETER HENNESSY started his career as a journalist for The Times, later becoming one of Britain’s best-known historians. His books include a ‘post-war trilogy’, Never Again: Britain 1945-1951 (winner of the NCR and Duff Cooper Prizes), Having it So Good: Britain in the Fifties (winner of the Orwell Prize), and Winds of Change: Britain in the Early Sixties, and the bestselling The Prime Ministers, The Secret State and, most recently, A Duty of Care. He was Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London, and is now an independent crossbench life Peer in 2010.

Additional information




Published Date