Magazine article The Spectator

The Bad and the Bogus

Magazine article The Spectator

The Bad and the Bogus

Article excerpt

I hope it will not cause any confusion if I begin my review of this book by confessing - perhaps boasting would be a better word - that Hugh Massingberd is one of my closest and dearest friends.

He is also one of the most generous people I know, never happier than when taking half-a-dozen friends to lunch at the Ivy or squandering the entire advance for a book on a sit-down dinner for 50 people at some stately West End club.

How he treats people in print is a slightly different matter. Massingberd has quite rightly been described as `like God, interested in everybody' and as 'a recording angel', yet he also possesses one of the sharpest pens in the kingdom and his cutting comments on people like the late Duke of Gloucester have, I understand, even generated hate mail.

By focusing on rogues in this new collection of obituaries published or commissioned during his glorious reign at the Daily Telegraph, Massingberd has entered exciting new territory and could easily have set himself an almost insurmountable editorial challenge. What exactly is a rogue and how do you qualify to join this curious elite?

Massingberd uses the word to cover a wide range of colourful characters. Each end of the Eton-to-East-End spectrum is well represented in this book. So is the overseas contingent. Among those featured are savage hitmen, bounders, agitators, spies, hoaxers and harmless scallywags. Their misdeeds range from straightforward down-market thuggery to subtle ruthlessness or incompetence in the corridors of power. Some are lifelong scoundrels, others are here because their glittering careers have suddenly gone `sharply awry', overturned by a single `shameful episode' or 'misadventure'. It is not easy to spot what they all have in common, but I suppose it boils down to a certain trickiness or slipperiness, or at least a sort of faintly bogus style.

Anyway almost all the so-called rogues in this book are treated with sympathy, if not leniency. This effect is largely achieved through the effervescent, piquant prose employed by Massingberd and his team, rendered all the more devastating by its restrained and understated tone. Thus we learn that the late Duke of Montrose had `opinions noticeably stronger than his executive abilities', that dear old Ronnie Kray developed `an early affection for guns' and that the mackintosh-manufacturer Lord Kagan eventually became `an inmate of Rudgate open prison'. …

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