Magazine article The American Conservative

High Life at the Speccie

Magazine article The American Conservative

High Life at the Speccie

Article excerpt

The Spectator of London is the oldest weekly of the Anglophone world, a jewel of a magazine as distinguished and respected as it is beautifully written. It was first published in 1828, just as modern Greece became a nation, and in a recent speech the sainted editor (as I refer to him) remarked that the Speccie, as it is affectionately known, was as old as its longest running columnist, which is yours truly.

Novelist Graham Greene called The Spectator "by far the most elegantly written weekly in the English-speaking world" and went as far as to invite one of the most notorious drunks of London's bohemia, columnist Jeffrey Bernard, to stay with him in Antibes. Both Greene and Bernard are now gone, but the Speccie has recently reached an all-time high in circulation--over 85,000 copies--which seemed to grate with our literary editor, Mark Amory, upon hearing the news. "I remember when our circulation was 12,000 and everybody used to read it."

Actually, I joined the magazine as a columnist back in 1976, when it sold around 8,000 copies per week, but it seemed that everyone one knew did read it. Everyone that is at Oxford and Cambridge, in Westminster, in Kensington and Belgravia, as well as in London's St. James's clubland. Now at 85,000 copies, owned by the Daily Telegraph group, and a big money-maker, the Speccie's sometime reactionary ethos is not as profound as it once was--who can forget its early support of the postage stamp and its prophetic thoughts on the motor carriage: the invention seemed likely to catch on.

Back in 1976, the Speccie's headquarters were a Bloomsbury Georgian house next to the home of Charles Dickens. We have since moved to yet another grand house in a quiet street fifty yards as the crow flies from Parliament. As before, there is a large garden in the back where our annual summer party takes place on the first Thursday of July. These parties are notorious for the scrum they produce, an overflow of every writer, hack, politician, and London character imaginable. Prime ministers, at least since I've been there, attend regularly, although royals are never invited. Except for lunch.

Lunches at The Spectator used to be notorious for the mix they produced. They are held in the elegant dining room and such diverse characters as Spiro Agnew, Prince Charles, Dame Edna Everage, Alger Hiss, Albert Speer, and Dame Maggie Smith join in the frivolity. (I sat next to Dame Maggie a couple of years ago--her first words to me were "what in heavens is that pink thing you're eating? …

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