Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Larger Than Life

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Larger Than Life

Article excerpt

Byline: A.N. WILSON

by Boris Johnson (Harper Press, [pounds sterling]20) [bar] ICHAEL Foot's election manifesto in 1983 was described as the longest suicide note in history. This book is the longest personal manifesto since we had an elected mayoralty for London. Every page is the coded plea: "Boris for Mayor". That said, it would be a churlish reader who derived no pleasure from this romp through London's history. Private Eye prints parodies of Boris but what's the point when he so cheerfully writes parodies of himself? Here is Pope Gregory "mooching about a slave market in Rome". The Anglo-Saxons "were called names like Cathwulf and Ceawlin and, let's face it, folks (or volks), they were essentially German".

Largely relying, as he disarmingly admits, on Stephen Inwood's excellent history of London, Boris rewrites the key moments in Borisese. Of course, as many people will have recognised, "with his bawdy, his mockery, his selfmockery, his pricking of hypocrisy and his terrible puns ... we love him". Geoffrey Chaucer, that is.

As the thumbnail sketches accumulate, we come to realise just how like Boris all the London heroes have been. Take Dick Whittington. "Such was his prestige that he was elected Mayor again in 1406 and again in 1419, the fourth time, if you include his initial appointment by Richard II." Dream on, Boris, as you look back on the banquets Whittington gave for the King. ("The Mayor laid on a fantastic binge. The wenches were as comely and as fragrant as any in late medieval London.") Others will have noted the points of resemblance between Boris and another Johnson, Dr Samuel -- "Incurable show-off he may have been, but I hope I have convinced the reader that Samuel Johnson was a gentle and kind man." Also, but naturally, "he was a passionate conservative in today's language".

A few pages on, and we are in the company of John Wilkes. Boris confesses: "I have a terrible feeling that as a 15-year-old I wrote a pompous essay on Wilkes . …

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