Leader: Voices from the Great World

We got a copy of the New Statesman at my grammar school in Wigton, Cumbria, in the 1950s. It sat mint fresh every week on the library table, with two or three other bargain-offer magazines. The Statesman came out of the unimaginable Great World. I started to read it then and have pegged along ever since. Over 50 years later I am asked to be a guest editor and it feels like taking an exam back at that school!

For contributors to this issue, I decided to go for people I admired and also for friends. We guests need all the help we can get. Often they were the same person. Sometimes I suggested topics and ideas.

In alphabetical order: Mary Beard is professor of classics at Cambridge and ur-iconoclastic commentator on the ancient world. Rob Brydon delivered a diary from the Toronto film festival with the mix of hyperbole and dry wit that carries him all over the airwaves and theatres of Britain. The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote a poem characteristic of her skill at being on the edge of where we as a country are now.

I wanted Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, to write about why it was that mathematics seemed to be spreading its empire into all the sciences. And as the Man Booker result draws nearer (the winner will be announced on Tuesday 12 October at the Guildhall in London), it is good to have Emma Donoghue, author of the shortlisted Room, in the magazine.

Tracey Emin was a brick and worked on the cover as conscientiously as she does on everything. I have interviewed Tracey before but this time I asked Sophie Elmhirst, the NS's assistant editor, to do the business. In the British Airways cabin-crew dispute there is a lot of talk about whether the company is out to break the unions or the unions out to break the company. I wanted a couple of considered views on those positions, and so, on page 32, Roy Hattersley squares up against the free marketeer Madsen Pirie to discuss that.

I've written a brief introduction to Ted Hughes's poem "Last letter", which is published for the first time on page 42. It was a most extraordinary discovery and gift. For fiction, I turned to P D James, whose work I admire greatly. She turned up with a story ingenious, obsessive and at points savage. It tickles me that someone who always looks so benign and generous can describe such violent acts.

I thought there ought to be an outsider voice in all this - perhaps a working-class voice, reminiscent of my own past - and so Peter Lazenby of the Yorkshire Evening Post, and from Leeds, writes this week's Issues lead. I would hope that might become a regular "voice" column.

In the 40 or so years I've known David Puttnam, not only has he pursued an outstanding career in films and now politics, but he has been the keeper of the flame of the British film industry. His essay on page 46 is, I think, one of his most comprehensive and certainly most challenging pieces. And so, in this little alphabetical expedition, to Gore Vidal. Again, I have written a short introduction to the long interview I did with him, but it was wonderful for me that I could lasso him into this issue.

I did not want to replace any of the regulars, because they are good and they are the magazine. I did not set out to look for a theme but I think that one might have emerged. My thanks for all of the assistance I've been given by the NS team and especially to Daniel Trilling for his unfaltering help.