It wasn’t their opinions, left or right, right or wrong, that impressed American readers so much as what was acclaimed as their effortless erudition. Again, however much I enjoyed reading them, I never found their learning all that intimidating. Cockburn could deftly quote Marx and Wodehouse in the same sentence, but that didn’t make him a scholar, and while Hitchens was a marvelous literary critic, he was no historian.

If that sounds grudging, remember the saying that it takes one to spot one. All those Englishmen listed above had been to Oxford, where I went myself, come to think of it. What was true there was also true at Cambridge, where Simon Gray enjoyed brilliant academic success, in a way that that very funny playwright and diarist later explained: “I wrote all my papers with a fraudulent fluency that could only have taken in those who were bound by their own educations to honour a fluent fraud.” Anyone who has been through the same pedagogical process will have an inkling what he meant.