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Francis Wheen

Francis James Baird Wheen (born 22 January 1957) is a British journalist, writer and broadcaster.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
    • Broadcasting work 2.1
  • Political views 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Partial bibliography 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and education

Wheen was born into an army family[1] and educated at two independent schools: Copthorne Preparatory School near Crawley, West Sussex, and Harrow School in north west London.


Running away from Harrow at 16 "to join the alternative society," Wheen had early periods as a "dogsbody" at The Guardian and the New Statesman and attended Royal Holloway College, University of London, after a period at a crammer.[1] At Harrow, he was briefly a contemporary of Mark Thatcher[2] who has been a subject of his journalism.[3]

Wheen is the author of several books, including a biography of Karl Marx[4] which won the Deutscher Memorial Prize in 1999,[5] and has been translated into twenty languages.[6] He followed the biography of Karl Marx with a "biography" of Das Kapital, which follows the creation and publication of the first volume of Marx's major work as well as other incomplete volumes. Wheen had a column in The Guardian for several years. He writes for Private Eye and is currently the magazine's deputy editor. His collected journalism, Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies, won him the Orwell Prize in 2003. He has also been a regular columnist for the London Evening Standard.

In April 2012, Wheen suffered the loss of his entire book collection, his "life's work", and an unfinished novel, in a garden shed fire.[7][8]

Broadcasting work

Wheen broadcasts regularly, mainly on BBC Radio 4, and is a regular panellist on The News Quiz, in which he has often referred to the fact that he resembles the former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith.[9] He is also a regular on Have I Got News for You.[10]

Wheen wrote a docudrama, The Lavender List, for BBC Four on the final period of Harold Wilson's premiership, concentrating on his relationship with Marcia Williams, which first screened in March 2006. It starred Kenneth Cranham as Wilson and Gina McKee as Williams. In April 2007, the BBC paid £75,000 to Williams (then Baroness Falkender) in an out-of-court settlement over claims made in the programme.[11]

Political views

Wheen was opposed to the Republic.[13]

Wheen was an advocate of NATO's Kosovo intervention against Serbian aggression in 1999; a signatory to the Euston Manifesto (issued in 2006) which called for a realignment of progressive politics;[14] and supported the second Iraq war.[15]

In late-2005, Wheen was the co-author with David Aaronovitch and blogger Oliver Kamm, both contributors to The Times, of a complaint to The Guardian after it published an apology and correction in respect of an interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes which had been published at the end of October 2005;[16] Chomsky had complained that the interview was defamatory in suggesting that he denied the 1995 Srebrenica massacre through his defence of a book by Diana Johnstone.[17]

Francis Wheen is strongly critical of Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay's failure to condemn the torture of Raif Badawi by the Saudi Arabian government unreservedly. Wheen maintains this was motivated by her wish to sell arms to the Saudis.[18]

Personal life

Wheen was married to the writer Joan Smith between 1985 and 1993. He has been the partner of Julia Jones (formerly Julia Thorogood) since the mid-1990s; they have two sons.[1]

In 2014, Wheen waived his right to anonymity in order to speak about being a victim of teacher Charles Napier, after Napier was convicted of sexually abusing 23 boys between 1967 and 1983. Wheen described his experience as less serious than that of other victims.[19]

Wheen was a close friend of the writer Christopher Hitchens.[20]

Partial bibliography

  • The Sixties (1982) ISBN 0-7126-0018-3
  • Television: A History (1984) ISBN 0-7126-0929-6
  • Battle for London (1985) ISBN 0-7453-0054-5
  • Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions (1990) ISBN 0-7011-3143-8
  • The Chatto Book of Cats (Chatto Anthologies) Francis Wheen, editor, John O'Connor, illustrator (1993) ISBN 0-7011-4005-4
  • Lord Gnome's Literary Companion (1994) ISBN 1-85984-945-8
  • Karl Marx (1999) ISBN 1-85702-637-3
  • Who Was Dr. Charlotte Bach? (2002) ISBN 1-904095-39-9
  • Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies: Collected Journalism, 1991–2001 (2002) ISBN 1-903809-42-8 (mainly consisting of columns written for The Guardian)
  • The Irresistible Con: The Bizarre Life of a Fraudulent Genius (2004) ISBN 1-904095-74-7
  • Shooting Out the Lights (2004) ISBN 0-00-714943-3
  • How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World (2004) ISBN 0-00-714096-7; in the USA and Canada: Idiot Proof: A Short History of Modern Delusions (2004) ISBN 1-58648-247-5
  • Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography (2006) ISBN 978-1-84354-400-5
  • Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia (2009) ISBN 978-0-00-724427-0


  1. ^ a b c Nicholas Wroe "A life in writing", The Guardian, 29 August 2009
  2. ^ Beatrix Campbell "What Margaret taught Mark", The Independent, 18 October 1994
  3. ^ "Francis Wheen". Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  4. ^ Paul Foot "Cheers, Mr Revolution", The Guardian, 9 October 1999
  5. ^ "Recipients of the Prize 1969 – 2010", Deutscher Memorial Prize website
  6. ^ "Radio 4 – In Our Time – Greatest Philosopher – Karl Marx". BBC. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  7. ^ Liam O'Brien "Bonfire of the first editions: author loses life's work in garden shed fire", The Independent, 16 April 2012
  8. ^ Julia Jones "They Took His Life and Threw it on a Skip", opendemocracy, 12 May 2012
  9. ^ If Iain Duncan Smith, my lookalike, wins, I may have to leave the country, or use the Wella hair-dye I bought, New Statesman, 10 September 2001
  10. ^ Have I Got News for You#Guest appearance tallies
  11. ^ "BBC pays out over Wilson drama", The Guardian website, 4 April 2007.
  12. ^ "Falkland Victory is Tainted", Francis Wheen. The Pittsburgh Press, 19 June 1982
  13. ^ "Our Supporters Include.." Republic. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  14. ^ "The Euston Manifesto – The Euston Manifesto". 11 September 2001. Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
  15. ^ "...columnists such as Nick Cohen, Francis Wheen and Christopher Hitchens, who argued for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as an act of anti-fascist solidarity with the opposition activists and trade unionists of Iraq." Martin Bright "The Politics Column", New Statesman, 24 April 2006. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  16. ^ Brockes, Emma. "The Greatest Intellectual?", The Guardian, 31 October 2005; the article has since been withdrawn from the Guardian‍ '​s website, but remains available at
  17. ^ The Guardian referred the matter to an external ombudsman who detailed his reasons for rejecting the three men's argument that the correction was itself wrong. See John Willis "External ombudsman report", The Guardian, 25 May 2006
  18. ^ UK ministers have started to defend Saudi Arabia's flogging of Raif Badawi – it's breathtaking. How medieval does a regime have to be before ministers pause to consider the relationship?
  19. ^ "Charles Napier jailed for 13 years for child sex abuse".  
  20. ^ Wheen, Francis (17 December 2011). "Christopher Hitchens: a sober perception, however much he drank". Telegraph. Retrieved 18 April 2012. 

External links

  • Extract from Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies: Collected Journalism
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
    • , 25 June 2000.Karl Marx: A Life interview with Wheen on Booknotes
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