The Old Un’s Notes
STOP PRESS! There has been a knockout new addition to the Alexander Chancellor event at Leicester University on 15th November.
Step forward Anne Robinson, Weakest Link supremo and new Oldie columnist, who is writing about the miracle of minihearing aids in this edition.
She was a great friend of Alexander, our late, much missed editor. The panel also includes satirist Craig Brown, writers Ferdinand Mount and Geoffrey Wheatcroft, and writer Alexander Waugh, Chancellor’s son-in-law. Tickets for the Literary Leicester Festival are free, and Oldie readers are very welcome. The event starts at 4pm in the Attenborough Film Theatre in Leicester.
Details at www2.le.ac.uk/institution/literary-leicester
On a related front, Alexander Waugh has been the busiest of bees.
In September, he released the first five volumes of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, Alexander Waugh’s grandfather. Once completed, there will be 43 volumes, published by Oxford University Press, in association with the University of Leicester.
This is the first time all Waugh’s extant writings and graphic art have been brought together. There are novels, biographies, essays, letters, reportage, travel writings, reviews, diaries, poems, drawings, and designs.
With his checked suits, Somerset pile, ear trumpet and attachment to White’s club, Waugh is lampooned as a metropolitan loafer and pretend country gent. In fact, he was an extraordinarily hard worker – as well as being the supreme novelist of the 20th century.
Auberon Waugh, his son and one of the Oldie’s founding deities, was also a workaholic. His charm, jokes and keen socialising disguised a serious work rate. And now Alexander, a prolific author himself, has preserved the family’s hidden dedication to extreme hard work.
To celebrate the new publications, the Bodleian Library is putting on a show devoted to Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford. According to the Bodleian, the ‘City of Aquatint’ exhibition will focus on ‘the 1920s city that hosted Waugh’s drunken adolescence’ and inspired Brideshead Revisited. It runs until 22nd October at the Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library. Teddy bears optional.
AN Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker was published on 7th September.
The book is brilliant on Darwin’s great badger of a
beard – the height of mid19th century fashion. ‘Whiskers, which had been sprouting from English male cheeks since the 1840s, crept round during the Crimean War (1854-6) to cover the chin,’ Wilson writes, ‘The difficulty of obtaining shaving soap and razors – and the even greater difficulty of shaving in the wintry blizzards above Sevastopol – led to a relaxation of military discipline.’
Before the war, only eccentrics, madmen and labourers wore beards. After, a beard meant you were a war hero. Cue the mighty beards of Trollope, Tennyson, Ruskin and Lord Salisbury.
Funnily enough, the recent hipster popularity of the beard has been attributed to glamorous army officers returning from Afghanistan, where they were encouraged to grow beards to fraternise with the locals.
A Legacy of Spies, John le Carré’s latest novel, was also published on 7th September, heralding the return of George Smiley OBE. He hasn’t been seen since 1990.
To welcome Smiley back, Penguin has released a delightful ‘Smiley’s London’ map, identifying key locations, including Smiley’s Chelsea home (9 Bywater Street), the Cambridge Circus HQ (as in ‘the Circus’), and a Bloomsbury safe house (14 Disraeli Street).
Mapped and illustrated by Mike Hall, you can print it out or download it on your phone.
The Old Un reckons you could do the walk in a gentle Sunday. Make sure no one’s tailing you.
The Old Un has it on the best authority – Ann Thwaite, biographer of AA Milne – that the new film ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, released on 13th October, is ‘really good’.
The real Christopher Robin Milne, a gentle, modest Cambridge maths scholar and Second World War veteran, became a Devon bookseller and died in 1996, aged 75.
He had told Mrs Thwaite she must write her book as if he were not going to read it, but of course he did. And he sent an admiring letter: ‘For me, it is as if a portrait had become three-dimensional. No great surprises, thank goodness, but much I hadn’t known.’
Christopher Robin, who sold his share to set up a trust for his handicapped daughter, did not, ultimately, resent having had his childhood mythologised.
The film deals with the 1920s, when the Pooh phenomenon completely eclipsed his father’s reputation as a playwright and Punch humorist. Ann Thwaite thinks Christopher Robin would have been delighted by the production. The Cliveden Literary Festival takes place on 14th-15th October at the Berkshire country house. The great and the good will be there, from Robert Harris to Sebastian Faulks.
The festival organisers have rooted through the archives for pictures of the house in its heyday, when Cliveden’s chatelaine was Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take her seat.
Pictured at Cliveden in 1931 are, from left to right, Amy Johnson (the first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia), Charlie Chaplin, Nancy Astor and George Bernard Shaw.
Chaplin recalled the weekend in his autobiography: ‘Towards the end of a particular luncheon party also attended by GB Shaw and Lloyd George, Lady Astor put in some comedy buck teeth that covered her own and gave an imitation of a Victorian lady speaking at an equestrian club. The teeth distorted her face with a most comical expression. Lady Astor would have made a wonderful actress.’
What a country house party! Even Downton Abbey doesn’t pull in as many stars.
As all oldies know, they really have much more get up and go than youngies.
A new Barclays survey has shown that the fastestgrowing age group of business owners between 2006 and 2015 was the over-65s.
It’s only logical. When The Oldie was set up 25 years ago, Auberon Waugh noted that the over-fifties ‘control nearly all the wealth and enjoy most of the free disposable income in the country, [but] advertising agencies have been slow to acknowledge this truth’.
A quarter of a century on, the over-fifties remain much richer than the young – and now they are expanding their business empire. All bow down before the Mighty Grey Pound!
The Oldie postman has been weighed down by correspondence on Wilfred De’ath’s appearance in the school play in Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Barnet. The Old Un admired Wilfred’s turn as a young girl, delightful ringlets and all.
Wilfred himself wrote to fill in the gaps about the production.
‘The play was Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-be Gentleman),’ writes Wilfred, ‘I played the leading part of Dorimène, Marquise de Montignac. One master, perhaps unsurprisingly, fell in love with me. I was 14, not 12 [as another actor in the play testified in September’s Oldie]. The year was 1952.’
Another correspondent, Michael Rose, who played the title role, M. Jourdain, kindly sent in a copy of the original programme for the play.
The Oldie would love to hear from anyone else who trod the boards with Wilfred 65 years ago.
Thank God, autumn is here. It means a fond farewell to people sending emails, saying they are on
‘annual leave’. Yes, you take leave if you’re in the armed forces. But, otherwise, call it what it is – a holiday.
‘Leave’ has the implication of some heroic occupation – and well-deserved rest from some arduous endeavour. It should not be applied to a fortnight off by the Med, a break from staring at a computer screen in an office.
Raymond Briggs’s article on Desert Island Discs in the last Oldie provoked memories of Plomley’s first castaway, Vic Oliver, the forties and fifties radio entertainer.
In 1936, Oliver married Winston Churchill’s rebellious daughter Sarah. Churchill was not amused, calling his son-in-law ‘common as dirt’, a view shared by Sarah’s insufferable brother, Randolph.
Randolph was once involved in an altercation with a naval officer who refused to do his bidding.
‘Do you know who I am?’ spluttered Randolph.
‘Yes,’ replied the sailor. ‘You’re Vic Oliver’s brotherin-law.’
There will be two London shows for Dafydd Jones, photographer of The Oldie’s ‘The Way We Live Now’ series.
‘A Weekend in Washington’ (Bermondsey Project Space, 20th September-1st October) focuses on President Trump’s inauguration. In ‘Here We Are’ (Old Sessions House, Clerkenwell, 18th September1st October), more than 30 photographers, including Dafydd, explore the British character. Pictured is one of Dafydd’s ‘Sleepers’ series.
In the ‘Memorial Service’ column in the August Oldie, the Old Un mistakenly knighted Simon Parker Bowles, restaurateur.
By chance, the ‘Memorial Service’ columnist, James Hughes-onslow, bumped into ‘Sir’ Simon at a pub in Arundel, where he was attending the Thanksgiving Mass for Lady Herries (see ‘Memorial Service’, this issue). In a corner sat Simon Parker Bowles and Robert Fellowes, the Queen’s Private Secretary from 1990 to 1999, and now, genuinely, Lord Fellowes.
‘Parker Bowles told me he was pleased to have been knighted by The Oldie,’ says Hughes-onslow, ‘“I know,” I said, “It wasn’t my fault.” I told him the Royal Family owed him a knighthood as they pinched his sister-in-law [Camilla Parker Bowles], then his restaurant in Duke Street.’
The lease on Parker Bowles’s restaurant – Green’s in St James’s – has reverted to the Crown Estate.
‘Do you think I deserve one for that?’ asked Parker Bowles.
‘Yes,’ said Hughes-onslow, suggesting Lord Fellowes, might be able to fix it for him.
Then Hughes-onslow recalled that Prince Charles pinched Lord Fellowes’s sister-in-law – Princess Diana. Lord Fellowes is wed to Lady Jane Spencer, Diana’s sister.
‘There. Now, close and get my lawyer on the phone’
‘How many times have I told you not to put your feet on the chairs?’
Cliveden – the real Downton
‘He can’t come to the phone right now - he’s binge silencing’
War – the origin of the beard
‘Enid’s husband wanted his ashes scattered at sea – actually, they couldn’t stand each other’
Magdalen Ball, Oxford, 1988