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Britons look askance at gadfly's diaries

He flaunts his philandering, dismisses African nations as "Bongo Bongo Land," writes of "smelly little Belgians," dotes on Margaret Thatcher and has a dog named Eva Braun.

The Right Honorable Alan Clark, Britain's ex-defense minister, is to political correctness what Madonna is to modesty.

The son of Lord Kenneth Clark, the eminent art historian who made an internationally acclaimed TV series Civilization, Alan Clark is a multimillionaire maverick who won't go away.

Last year the tall, craggy Clark nonchalantly blew the whistle on British arms sales to Iraq.

He announced during the trial of three British executives that he had encouraged the sales, which continued until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

The findings of a judicial inquiry currently taking evidence are likely to be, at best, embarrassing to Prime Minister John Major.

Now come the Clark diaries, a more or less unexpurgated account of life as a legislator and a government minister from 1983 to 1992. As minister for defense procurement, serving under the defense secretary, his duties included arms-buying and selling.

The diaries are packed with unflattering descriptions of political colleagues, of bumblings and betrayals, and of jostling for office.

As Clark does the rounds of talk shows about the diaries and bares more of his soul in a BBC documentary, he remains true to just one woman: Thatcher.

His wife, Jane, who was 16 when they married 35 years ago, shared the limelight, stoically discussing her husband's infidelities with a bright, unamused laugh.

Trouble began when Clark's girlfriend joined them on their honeymoon in Italy and apparently has continued ever since.

"He's impossible. He's absolutely dreadful and half the time you want to throttle him. . . . But I still love him," said Mrs. Clark.

"His views are almost always difficult to stomach and sometimes repulsive," commented Alastair Campbell, left-wing political editor of the Today newspaper. "But . . . in a profession of gray men getting grayer, Clark is a rare blast of color."

Candid comments

Snippets of former British Defense Minister Alan Clark's judgments of others, as confided to his diary:

Queen Elizabeth II _ "Not for the first time I wondered about the queen. Is she really rather dull and stupid?"

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher _ "It was a prototypical example of an argument with a woman _ no rational sequence, associative, lateral thinking, jumping the rails the whole time."

Prime Minister John Major _ "He's not classy, which doesn't worry me in the slightest, but worse, he doesn't (like Mrs. T) even aspire to be classy."

Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd _ "His is a split personality. "A deux' he is delightful; clever, funny, observant, drily cynical. But get him anywhere near "display mode,' particularly if there are officials around, and he (is) . . . pompous, trite, high-sounding, cautiously guarded."

Politicians _ "There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling, and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water."

_ Associated Press