Squalor, liquor and love: my life with the satire elite

de­fied an­tisemitism to marry Ni­cholas Luard, the man who co-owned Pri­vate Eye mag­a­zine, gave iconic co­me­dian Lenny Bruce a stage in Lon­don, and died an al­co­holic. She talks to

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

The Savoy Grill, Lon­don, 1963 — a 21-year-old for­mer debu­tante sits ner­vously op­po­site an im­pos­ing busi­ness­man. It is a sig­nif­i­cant oc­ca­sion, her first meet­ing with the man about to be­come her fa­ther-in-law. “Tell me, my dear,” he asks, “did you have much trou­ble at school, be­ing Jewish?” The man is Jock Luard. The young woman is elis­a­beth Long­more, daugh­ter of Wing Com­man­der Richard Long­more, who was killed in action when his daugh­ter was a child.

“Trou­ble?” she replies. “No, it wasn’t an is­sue.” She points out that she was brought up to iden­tify with her fa­ther’s angli­can faith.

Jock Luard presses on re­gard­less. “It must have been lonely for you not go­ing to church with the other girls.”

De­spite his dis­com­fort­ing man­ner, elis­a­beth feels her ner­vous­ness eas­ing. This is partly due to the be­lated ar­rival at the ta­ble of her fi­ancé, Ni­cholas — prod­uct of pub­lic school, the Guards and ox­ford. But it also prob­a­bly has some­thing to do with the fa­mil­iar­ity of the sur­round­ings. elis­a­beth Long­more has eaten of­ten at the Savoy with her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents — Bertha and ed­ward Baron, heirs to the Car­reras to­bacco for­tune. In­deed, the maitre d’ho­tel greeted her by name, and she has or­dered her “usual” — smoked sal­mon. as this ar­rives, her fu­ture in­law smiles and re­as­sures her, “I have noth­ing against the Jews, many of them fine peo­ple, I’ve no doubt. I wouldn’t want you to mis­un­der­stand me.”

al­most for the first time, she feels the force of a strong in­ner iden­tity. “I un­der­stand you per­fectly,” she re­sponds. “you mean that all Jews have curly hair, hooked noses and are greedy with money.”

It was a piv­otal mo­ment, the food writer, nov­el­ist, il­lus­tra­tor and broad­caster elis­a­beth Luard now re­calls. “I was re­ally rude and re­ally sur­prised at my­self. I sud­denly heard very clearly what Ni­cholas’s fa­ther was ac­tu­ally say­ing.” and, she main­tains, she has felt buoyed by that Jewish iden­tity ever since — usu­ally in the most un­pro­pi­tious of cir­cum­stances. “I think that one very Jewish trait is the abil­ity to see where the bull­shit is,” she says.

When she mar­ried Ni­cholas Luard 45 years ago, he co-owned Pri­vate Eye mag­a­zine with the co­me­dian Peter Cook, with whom he had also set up The es­tab­lish­ment Club in Soho. In 2004, Ni­cholas died as a re­sult of can­cer of the liver, a legacy of years of heavy drink­ing. The tur­bu­lent na­ture of the mar­riage can be gleaned from the sub-ti­tle to elis­a­beth Luard’s new book: My Life as a Wife: Love, Liquor and What To Do About the Other Women.

“From the out­side,” says Luard of her 41-year mar­riage, “it might eas­ily seem that it did not work, but it did.” This, she says, was be­cause, for all her hus­band’s long ab­sences — with amenable women, ir­re­spon­si­ble chums, or in pur­suit of im­petu­ous schemes to make money or save the en­vi­ron­ment — theirs was a love match. But then, as she writes in My Life as a Wife, “true love was never a match for the bot­tle”.

De­spite this, Luard re­fuses to take up arms against al­co­holism. “I am not by na­ture a dis­ap­prover. Lots of things wreck lives. I didn’t re­ally no­tice how bad Ni­cholas’s drink­ing was be­com­ing. In those early days, ev­ery­body drank, es­pe­cially some­one who was a writer and a night-club owner. as a young man, it didn’t seem to af­fect him that much. he was very ath­letic, run­ning marathons at 50.”

Ni­cholas Luard cer­tainly was an ex­cep­tional in­di­vid­ual. he pro­duced a num­ber of well-re­ceived nov­els and travel books and it was he, along with Chris Brasher, who es­tab­lished, against a wall of op­po­si­tion and scep­ti­cism, the Lon­don Marathon.

The es­tab­lish­ment — the night-club to which his widow refers — was the leg­endary home of ’60s satire, and much else. one of many eye­brow-rais­ing episodes in her book re­veals Peter Cook’s ho­mo­sex­ual side. oth­ers in­volve the club’s no­to­ri­ous star turn, the Jewish-amer­i­can pi­o­neer of pro­fan­ity, Lenny Bruce.

“Lenny was bril­liant. he was say­ing things oth­ers dared not say. The es­tab­lish­ment regulars were fun­nier, in terms of belly laughs, but with Lenny it was a learn­ing process. Lenny and Ni­cholas were very fond of each other. Lenny took a tape recorder into court when he was up on a charge in San Fran­cisco and played the whole thing over the phone — col­lect — to Ni­cholas, in the mid­dle of the night.”

Bruce died of a drug over­dose in 1966. eight years later, Dustin hoff­man por­trayed him in the film Lenny. “Ni­cholas went to the movie,” elis­a­beth Luard re­mem­bers, “and left in the mid­dle in floods of tears. an ush­erette said: ‘What’s the mat­ter, dear?’ he felt he couldn’t say he knew Lenny Bruce, and came out with: ‘My cat died’! Ni­cholas couldn’t stand cats. The ush­erette said, ‘I had a cat. I know how you feel.’”

an­other sin­gu­lar Jewish char­ac­ter who fig­ures in elis­a­beth Luard’s story was the bril­liant, self-taught botanist and bi­ol­o­gist Miriam Roth­schild, for whom Luard worked as an il­lus­tra­tor. “She was fan­tas­tic — she gave me the con­fi­dence to write. She said, in re­la­tion to a No­bel Prize win­ner: ‘you’re not quite as clever as her, but you’ll do.’”

Miriam Roth­schild knew Luard’s Baron grand­par­ents. “The english Roth­schilds were a dull lot com­pared to them,” she told her. The founder of the dy­nasty was Bernard Baron, who ar­rived pen­ni­less in Bri­tain in the 1880s and went on to make his for­tune through cigarettes.

My Life as a Wife is pub­lished by Timewell Press at £16.99

Elis­a­beth and Ni­cholas Luard cel­e­brate their 25th wed­ding an­niver­sary in 1988. De­spite ap­pear­ances, the mar­riage worked, she says

Elis­a­beth Luard to­day: a suc­cess­ful food writer

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