Francis Wheen

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

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. He is an atheist.


Wheen is said to have "run away" from Harrow, a boarding school, at 16, "to join the alternative society". He had early periods as a general dogsbody at The Guardian and the New Statesman, both Marxist publications, but somehow managed to gain admittance to Royal Holloway College, University of London, after a period at a crammer.[1]

Wheen started his journalist's 'career' on Gay News[2] and had a column in The Guardian for several years where he regularly libelled, defamed and smeared conservatives and those on The Right. He also writes for Private Eye - in 1994 he was their columnist Grovel [3] - another smear-sheet, and has been sometime that magazine's deputy editor. He was once the Deputy Political Editor of The Independent, another left-wing London newspaper and he has also been a regular journalist and columnist for the London Evening Standard. His collected journalism, Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies, won him the Orwell Prize in 2003.

Wheen is the author of several books, including a much lauded (by The Left) 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. In April 2012, Wheen suffered the loss of his entire book collection, his "life's work", and an unfinished novel, in a fire.[7][8]

Broadcasting work

Wheen is naturally a BBC luvvie, being a star of The Left. He is frequently on BBC Radio 4, and is a regular panellist on the BBC's The News Quiz. He is also a regular on the BBC's Have I Got News for You.[9]

Like most on the hard Left Wheen is a serial smearer. He wrote a so-called 'docudrama', The Lavender List, for BBC Four on the final period of Harold Wilson's premiership, concentrating on smearing his character over his relationship with his secretary and personal assistant Marcia Matilda Falkender, who was later given a Life Peerage as Baroness Falkender. This was first screened in March 2006. In April 2007, the BBC paid £75,000 to Baroness Falkender in an out-of-court settlement over claims made in the programme.[10]

Political views

Wheen was, unsurprisingly, opposed to the Falklands War. In an article syndicated to a number of American newspapers, Wheen stated: "In a famous British play of the 1950s, "Look Back in Anger", the hero complained that "there aren't any good, brave causes to fight for anymore". Mrs Thatcher apparently agrees with this view, so she went to war over a small, ignoble cause."[11] As with most unpatriotic Marxist scum, Wheen is a supporter of the group Republic, which seeks the abolition of the monarchy in the United Kingdom.[12]

Yet 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;[13] and supported the second Iraq war.[14]

Wheen interviewed Jonathan Bowden and Stuart Millson in 1994 regarding their group, the Revolutionary Conservative Caucus when, they said, he appeared obsessed with their traditional position on homosexuality "and pumped this for all it was worth."[15]

In late-2005, Wheen was the co-author with David Aaronovitch and the Marxist writer 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]

Personal life

Wheen was married to Joan Smith between 1985 and 1993. He now lives with Julia Jones (formerly Julia Thorogood) and they have two bastard sons.

In 2014, Wheen declared that he was a victim of teacher Charles Napier who was convicted of sexually abusing 23 boys between 1967 and 1983. Wheen described his experience as less serious than that of other victims.[18]

Wheen was a close friend of the far-left writer Christopher Hitchens.[19]

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. 1.0 1.1 Nicholas Wroe "A life in writing", The Guardian, 29 August 2009
  2. The Revolutionary Conservative jounral, Issue no.5, Winter, 1994-5, p.4.
  3. The Revolutionary Conservative jounral, Issue no.5, Winter, 1994-5, p.4.
  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 on 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. Have I Got News for You#Guest appearance tallies
  10. "BBC pays out over Wilson drama", The Guardian website, 4 April 2007.
  11. "Falkland Victory is Tainted", Francis Wheen. The Pittsburgh Press, 19 June 1982
  12. "Our Supporters Include.." Republic. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  13. The Euston Manifesto – The Euston Manifesto. (11 September 2001). Retrieved on 18 April 2012.
  14. "...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.
  15. The Revolutionary Conservative jounral, Issue no.5, Winter, 1994-5, p.3-4.
  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. Charles Napier jailed for 13 years for child sex abuse. BBC Online (23 December 2014). Retrieved on 24 December 2014.
  19. Wheen, Francis (17 December 2011). Christopher Hitchens: a sober perception, however much he drank. Telegraph. Retrieved on 18 April 2012.

External links