Sir Max Hastings photographed at home in 2018Toby Madden

Almost three decades ago, as a newspaper editor, I asked a young job applicant why he had quit his previous employment, serving Nigel Dempster’s famous or infamous Daily Mail gossip column. He replied that he suffered a Damascene moment of revelation and repentance on returning from lunch to find the bibulous diarist presiding over a sweepstake among colleagues about the size of his own private parts.

That conversation took me back to my own misspent youth in Dempster’s trade. Mercifully, I could not remember any event in our office as grotesque as that which the disillusioned interviewee described. But my emotional Irish colleague Mary Kenny once emptied a mug of tea over my head as I typed, and there were drunken scenes that Roman emperors…