Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Unpleasant Trip to Brideshead

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Unpleasant Trip to Brideshead

Article excerpt

At first, all seemed to be going swell for the centenary celebrations of English writer Evelyn Waugh. The author's estate had approved several productions to coincide roughly with his Oct. 28 birthdate, among them Stephen Fry's adaptation of "Vile Bodies" (retitled "Bright Young Things") and a coming Andrew Davies film version of "Brideshead Revisited."

Waugh's legacy, it seemed, was secure. His books, ripe for a minirevival, would surely be revisited once attention was lavished on the attendant high-profile tie-ins.

What the estate hadn't counted on was someone gatecrashing their garden party. Michael Johnston, a former BBC commentator, has written an "unauthorized" Brideshead sequel, called "Brideshead Regained." Hoping to unveil his creation on Waugh's centenary, Mr. Johnston sent his finished manuscript to the Waugh estate.

As with other postscripts to beloved books, reactions have been mixed. The response from the keepers of Waugh's flame has been forthright - and not exactly genteel. "I received a letter from [grandson] Alexander Waugh, which said the following," says Mr. Johnston as he works through a grilled mackerel lunch in London's West End. He quotes from memory, " 'I have examined your ... scam called "Brideshead Regained" and loathed it. You are in breach of copyright and you are illiterate. Be warned.' Signed, Alexander Waugh."

Johnston laughs between bites of fish and then sighs. He had hoped to gain official approval from Waugh's heirs. Instead, the estate threatened him with a costly court injunction.

"I'm living on my pension now," he says, nodding to his wife, who smiles supportively. "I didn't wish to spend my life and life savings in court, so we settled with the estate."

Johnston agreed to sell only the 1,500 copies of his book - which he'd printed under his own press at the cost of $18,000 - and solely online. The other stipulations: no more print runs, no bookstore retail, and most especially, no copies could be sold in gift stores at Castle Howard or in the local village where the "Brideshead" TV miniseries was filmed. "The only thing they don't mention is public libraries," adds Johnston, noting with a small gleam of glee, "at least 80 libraries have bought a copy so far. …

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