Some years ago in the Bangkok YMCA restaurant a couple who were deep in conversation passed my table on their way out. I caught only one sentence, spoken by the man in Antipodean English. “It was inhabited,” he said slowly, “by a rather disreputable brand of angel.” Nothing else, just those words as he and his companion walked out of my life, leaving an almost unbearable curiosity about the context of that remarkable statement.

I had all but forgotten the incident, but it was recalled unexpectedly this year when I renewed acquaintance with Malcolm Muggeridge’s Jesus Rediscovered (Doubleday, 1969). In the foreword the author employs the familiar device of appearing to repudiate criticism by simply reporting it. “Old enemies,” he writes, “dwell on the obscenity of aging lechers that lash out resentfully at sensual pleasures they can no longer enjoy.” (Mr. Muggeridge, it should be said, is a great national thumper of the pornographic legions in Britain.)

Had I at last, then, encountered a representative of the angelic disreputable? Muggeridge’s career has been, in the language of genteel euphemism, “colorful.” He makes no secret of it, and from his repetition of the fact in sundry places and divers manners may not feel totally crushed by memory of a wild and wayward past. That no one will deny how impressively equipped he is for a telling sermon on the Prodigal Son is now further confirmed by publication of the first volume of his biography: Chronicles of Wasted Years: The Green Stick (Collins).

He was born seventy years ago in Croydon, near London. His father was an enthusiastic socialist who was latterly a member of parliament. Malcolm graduated at Cambridge, ...

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