Fond Farewell

By Taki | The Spectator, January 20, 2007 | Go to article overview

Fond Farewell


Taki, The Spectator


To 56 Doughty Street for the last supper, or the embalmers' lunch, as Gore Vidal once described a class reunion.

Actually, it was very moving, at least for the poor little Greek boy. Had The Spectator been a Mexican magazine, we would have shot our pistols in the air, downed tequilas and sworn death before ever defecting to another publication. Had it been Greek, everyone would have blubbed, embraced, sworn eternal friendship and so on. As it happens to be a British weekly, we had two toasts, lots of jokes and said simple goodbyes at the end.

Perhaps it's better this way. Alexander Chancellor, the first sainted editor of the six I have slaved under these 30 years, presided over the last lunch in the Speccie's famed dining room upstairs. He was invited to do this by the present saint, Matthew d'Ancona, who I discovered has to be the saintliest of the six saints because he's married to a lady of the super race (a Prussian, obviously).

If I am confusing you, it is on purpose.

No, it is not as yet curtains for the Greek boy, we are simply vacating the premises and 56 Doughty Street is about to become history. And what a great history it's been, even if I say so myself. Simon Courtauld tells it all in his wonderful history of the Speccie, especially the drunken lunches that took place so long ago, many of which I was lucky to attend. Alger Hiss, Dame Edna with Spiro Agnew, Kingsley Amis, Rebecca West, Prince Charles. (He asked for Jeff Bernard and myself to attend but Charles Moore refused. 'Why not?' asked the Prince. 'Because Jeff will use the F-word non-stop and the Greek boy will leak to the tabloids, ' came the answer. But No. 56 was refurbished from top to bottom in anticipation of his visit. ) The funny thing was we almost made it. I told Jeff to meet me across the street in the pub, and the plan was to drop in pretending to discuss future copy and to sort of meander upstairs. I waited and waited but Jeff never made it. He got too drunk at the Coach & Horses and fell asleep at the bar. There was no way I was going to pull the stunt on my own.

We were ten for lunch. Clare Asquith, who was already there when I began my Speccie run, and who asked me if I would be filing copy from jail after I was busted at Heathrow 25 years ago; Jenny Naipaul, who survived editing me when I wrote far worse than I do now; Simon Courtauld, who suggested my name to Alexander as a high-life correspondent; Geoffrey Wheatcroft, the then literary editor who now writes serious books; Patrick Marnham; Ferdy Mount; and John McEwen, all of whom were present at my arrival and all of whom have gone on to grander things, made up the table; and of course Matthew d'Ancona, whose idea the last supper was. …

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