Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

New Hampshire

Just back from London, 40 years to the week since my first visit. It was a wonderful city then, in a cold rooms, dark-streets, early-pub-closing, single-TV-channel way. And the food. . .

I ordered a steak, it arrived boiled. But London was more polite and intelligent than America. The language was full of manners. If one didn't like a person, one could say, 'One quite likes him.'

One could use the politely impersonal 'one'. No dialogue began with the rude Americanism 'What do you do?' Real conversation was on offer, about shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings and who was the more appalling paedophile, the Reverend Dodgson or J.M. Barrie. Besides, since six shillings an hour was considered a living wage, my London friends were too intelligent to get a job. Not that being American made me feel stupid - quite.

There was a white Christmas in 1970. We had an immense snowball fight. Never mind fast bowling, your cricketer stands no chance against a baseball pitch.

Intelligence continues to shine here. One was in town to flog one's book until the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Nonfiction lodged a complaint.

Thus radio and TV interviews. These entail pre-interviews. A young woman producer gets the author to say everything he has to say, leaving him with nothing to say in the interview proper but 'um' and 'up to a point'. In America producers are chosen for good looks, chipper attitude and good looks. In London producers are chosen for good looks, chipper attitude and Oxbridge accents. Typical question from an American producer: 'Has, like, Sarah Palin, you know, heard that Barack Obama was born in Africa?' Typical question from an English producer:

'Would you elucidate what moral qualms you possess concerning nanotechnology?'

(I have only the smallest objections. ) On BBC Radio 4's Start the Week one guest was Armando Iannucci, a political satirist so skilled that he's preparing to ascend the Everest of political satire, the American vicepresidency. No US funny-maker would dare try to top reality. As Chicago humorist Peter Finley Dunne said about vice presidents 100 years ago, 'It isn't a crime exactly. Ye can't be sint to jail f'r it, but it's kind iv a disgrace. It's like writin' anonymous letters.' Another guest, Simon McBurney, is directing a production based on an early Soviet novel by Mikhail Bulgakov about an early Soviet dog turned into an early Soviet. …

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