One of the slightly more unusual yet well-known contributors to Threshold that I’ve come across is Frank Pakenham, otherwise known as the 7th Earl of Longford and British Labour politician. He was approached by Mary O’Malley in 1959 to write an article especially for the magazine, which he did not have time to do. However he did send his notes for a debate which had been held at Queen’s University, Belfast, on the topic ‘That Religion is Necessary to Morality’, for publication.
It is no surprise that he was invited to speak on this particular topic. Longford famously converted to Catholicism after a nervous breakdown while in the army during the Second World War. His beliefs went on to inform his politics when he took his seat in the House of Lords, and he became notorious for his position on gay rights, strongly opposing the decriminalisation of homosexuality. He also famously, and controversially, condemned the continued imprisonment of convicted murderer Myra Hindley, dubbing her a ‘political prisoner’. His belief in her rehabilitation was staunch, and he campaigned for her release for many years.
It is with the knowledge of his career as a writer though that his involvement with Threshold can be understood. Longford had a great interest in Irish history, with Éamon de Valera being a particular hero of his. He in fact was chosen to co-author de Valera’s official biography in 1970. He also would have come to Mary O’Malley’s attention for his longstanding efforts to have the Hugh Lane bequest paintings returned to Dublin from London, which resulted in a sharing agreement being reached in 1959. With Mary O’Malley’s own political persuasions also lying with the Labour party, it is obvious that there were multiple reasons behind her decision to approach Lord Longford to contribute an article to Threshold.
Lord Longford died in 2001, survived by his eight children, amongst them the writers Thomas Pakenham, Rachel Billingham and perhaps most famously, Lady Antonia Fraser, widow of the playwright Harold Pinter.