Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

In the Diaries of Kenneth Tynan --to be published with great fanfare this autumn -- the flamboyant theatre critic, nowadays probably best known for his sado-masochistic tendencies, describes a small dinner party which he and his wife Kathleen gave in 1973: `Christmas Eve dinner for George Weidenfeld, Min Hogg, John and Miriam Gross.... A great success, so much so that George W., who seldom drinks, became raffishly drunk, started to talk about prewar Vienna, and invited us all to change into pajamas and nighties. He ended by wearing a broad-brimmed and rather sportive summer hat of mine and a nightdress of K's slung round his neck.... A memorable evening.' Memorable indeed, if only it were true. I do vaguely recollect an agreeable, perfectly respectable dinner party, but nothing like this. Since I have never, alas, been to an orgy or even a quasi-orgy, I could hardly have forgotten, even after nearly 30 years, an evening in which nighties played such a prominent part. In any case, the role George Weidenfeld is supposed to have played is totally out of character - he is an unwavering teetotaller. Ken Tynan, though a highly gifted and sweet-natured man, was a fantasist.

Tynan was, of course, already a legend in his own lifetime. He saw to that himself. As he put it in one of his best puns, `We all make our mystiques.' But the passage of time produces some surprising cults. In the past few weeks, for example, two people I knew quite well and would never have guessed would achieve posthumous stardom have suddenly become mythical figures. One is Loma Sage, enormous photos of whom now fill entire bookshop windows. Lorna, when I knew her, was extremely self-effacing, nervy and awkward; so much so that it was difficult to have a relaxed conversation with her. Though a pretty woman, she was always so hunched up that one rarely saw her face properly - it was in any case shrouded in smoke from her chain-smoking. And, until she published her brilliant childhood memoir, Bad Blood, not long before she died, she was a mere literary critic, though an immensely clever one; so not an obvious candidate for iconic status. Then there is Caroline Blackwood, described in a headline in this magazine the other week as a `Ravishing, Rebellious Angel'. It's true that Blackwood was very beautiful and a genuine femme fatale. Her husbands included Lucian Freud and the poet Robert Lowell. And she was a very gifted writer. But she was also withdrawn and completely scatty. Her dinner parties were to be avoided; they consisted of people sitting around on the floor surrounded by bottles and cigarettes but almost no food. One never imagined that someone would write a full-length biography of her. It is good that posterity confers celebrity on the basis of talent rather than self-promotion.

The other day I received a letter from the much admired Lord Young of Dartington (86). He wanted me to give money to a new educational trust that he has set up to support schools run on the same principles as the pioneering 'progressive' Darlington Hall school, founded in the 1920s and closed amid much scandal in 1987. These principles include putting `more emphasis on learning than on teaching', relying on `personal responsibility rather than on obedience' and appreciating `the importance of happiness'. …

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