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Kiss Me, Chudleigh: The World According to Auberon Waugh, edited by William Cook

Warning: not suitable for twerps

Reviewed by Jonathan Sale

The death of a fish named Marigold was not crucial in the general scheme of things, unless you were the goldfish in question.

But Auberon Waugh's article on the loss of his fishy pet in New Statesman is likely to survive longer than any other in the issue of 7 February 1975. Although any piece of his was generally the least informative and important in the publication it appeared in, it was always the most entertaining and memorable.

Producing the most witty and outrageous article in The Catholic Herald was easy (he barely survived a poll of readers on whether he should be sacked) but it took some talent to do the same in Private Eye. Extracts from both, and from the Oldie, Telegraph, Spectator, which did sack him, and Literary Review, which didn't (he edited it), make up most of Kiss Me, Chudleigh. In this highly enjoyable selection, William Cook has arranged the articles chronologically with relevant links to Waugh's life and career.

"Bron" supposedly uttered the title words to a shocked fellow-soldier after accidentally shooting himself in the chest during national service (he later doubted saying them). His diary in Private Eye, which began as a parody of Alan Brien's column in The Sunday Times, came with a disclaimer: "Everything in it is untrue." That was not true either.

His disgraceful political-incorrectness-gone-mad had its inbuilt get-out-of-jail card. He was often parodying himself, as if he were a character in one of his early novels. Women at a Labour conference were "either hunch-backed or hairy-legged or obviously lesbian". He wondered if electrocution might be better than beatings for schoolboys. Following the invention of the "silent piano", how about "silent politicians"? He hoped that the girlfriend of whoever burgled his house would be raped by ten Sun readers.

Naturally enough he made enemies, who spurred him on to greater excesses of creativity. In a Punch piece on nepotism (not reprinted here), he reflected that, just as a greengrocer passes on the goodwill of the enterprise to the next generation, his father Evelyn, the outstandingly grouchy novelist, passed on the ill-will of the family business. No wonder he was blackballed from the pompous club White's. "The twerps have taken over," he said, and for once there was nothing uncontroversial about it.

Belfast Telegraph


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