I was saddened to see in The Times that my family friend Victor Sandleson has died.
My memories of Victor are mainly from my childhood at Fiske & Co’s old summer parties on the Pavilion Terrace at the Palace of Westminster. He was one of my father’s Cambridge friends and you always could find him chatting, cigarette balanced delicately between upturned fingers (with a portable solid gold ashtray in the other hand), staring down at waters of The Thames, his words drifting between subjects with his friends, medicine or the sea with our GP Sir Nigel Southward (then Apothecary to the Royal Household and later Vice Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron), business or horses with Sir Martyn Arbib (then owner of both Invesco Perpetual and racehorses like Snurge who won the St Leger) or history and politics with the Marquess of Ailesbury (then a member of both the House of Lords and the board of Fiske.)
Victor’s brother Neville had been a Member of Parliament, one of the infamous Labour MPs who helped set up the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and then defected to it in 1981. Victor would always speak of his brother as “the clever one”, even though it was he had been invited back to Cambridge University to teach. Older than my father, he had poached him Sandelson & Co from Panmure’s (with David Cameron’s father Ian), until my father left for Fiske, a briefly acrimonious split which got them both in the pages of Private Eye more than once.
My fondest memory of Victor, though, is one of intellect and generosity at a dinner party of my parent’s in Eaton Square when I was twenty. I just had just begun my Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) degree course at Oxford and while researching some essay or other I had come across Hugh Thomas’s 1959 book of essays The Establishment. Lord Thomas is now better known as a historian of Spain, but in those days he was a noted journalist and had coined the phrase “The Establishment” in 1954. He’d asked Victor to contribute a chapter on The City, and with characteristic wit Victor had titled it ‘The Confidence Trick.’
More than the content of the piece I remember his delight that it was still being read almost four decades later, and after I brought it up we spent a memorable evening in a discussion which began with finance, moved on to the nature of power and elites, and then and ranged everywhere from the philosophy of fin de siècle Vienna to the fate of the Jews in Europe in the 20th century – Victor was proudly a Jewish English gentleman.
Most of all from that night, I came away with a realisation that discussions of great depth could also be carried out with humour and charm if you possessed his particular lightness of touch, something I have still yet to master. This was further reinforced by my return Oxford a few days later, where I found a handwritten letter waiting at the Porter’s Lodge of my college thanking me profusely for my company at dinner and containing a book token for £100 so that I could buy at least a few of the many he had mentioned in passing. It was a gesture which I have never forgotten.
The world is less without him.
Victor was a mainstay of my youth, always at family parties arguing medicine with our doctor Sir Nigel Southward who had been at Cambridge with both he and my father (Victor was teaching there by that point), or finance with my father’s school friend Sir Martyn Arbib, or politics with the Marquess of Ailesbury, who then still had his seat in the House of Lords – in fact, many of those conversations were on the Pavilion Terrace overlooking the River Thames at the annual Fiske & Co summer party.)