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Perfect guests? The Clintons in the 1970s (©SIPA Press/REX/Shutterstock)


My father telephoned me shortly before Christmas 1978. I was a struggling young barrister in London and had just become engaged to my first wife, whom I had met when she was the shorthand writer and I was a junior on a sensational murder trial at the Old Bailey. Dad was in his third year as Rabbi of the Jewish Temple in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Surprisingly, that remote place hosted a thriving Jewish community centring mainly around an arthritis hospital and the natural spa waters which gave the town its name. A heart attack a few years earlier had contributed to his leaving England and his large and demanding congregation in Manchester to accept what was effectively a retirement job in the sun. He is still remembered as a charming and charismatic man, and whenever he met any American planning a trip to London he would proudly invite them to get in touch with his son. While invariably these were nice people, I was getting fed up with return invitations to faraway places like Gary, Indiana, which I knew I would never take up.

“I have a lovely young couple whom I have just met,” he now told me. “They are spending Christmas in London, and I promised them you would show them around. They are both lawyers like you, and he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.” I replied angrily, “For heaven’s sake, no, Dad. You’re always doing this to me, and anyway Alexis and I are going skiing in a few days’ time.”

He begged me to relent, adding that this was the newly-elected Governor of Arkansas who was grabbing a short vacation before taking up his position, and that in the time-honoured way things work in America it might conceivably do him some good in return. “OK,” I said, “for a Governor I will make an exception, and hopefully it may do you some good. But this is absolutely the last time, Dad.”

The phone rang again in my tiny apartment a few days later, and a deep southern accent that I could hardly understand announced, “Hi Jonathan, it’s Bill here. Your Dad said Hillary and I could visit with you, and we would love to go with you to court.” They were staying at a cheap hotel in Earl’s Court. All I could offer was that I was defending a burglar the following day in a nondescript jury trial at Inner London Crown Court. To my surprise, they arrived promptly at 10 o’clock and spent the whole day sitting behind me, watching intently. At lunchtime I sent a message to the judge informing him that the young couple sitting behind me were the newly-elected Governor of Arkansas and his wife, and perhaps he would be willing to greet them in his chambers. He replied that he was much too busy.

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