Books: Soldiers, sailors and airheads
There's more to life than dropped names, says Michael Arditti; Never a Normal Man by Daniel Farson, HarperCollins, pounds 25
Saturday 22 March 1997
In the art of being in the right place at the right time, Farson is a Michelangelo. As the son of a celebrated American journalist, he had an early brush with fame and infamy when Gandhi visited his London home and Hitler patted his head in Munich. Evacuated to Chicago in 1940, he was taken by Somerset Maugham to spend a weekend with his lover's lover; walking into the French pub in Soho, he was instantly befriended by John Deakin and Francis Bacon; he even contrived to be sailing down the Volga and suspected of spying during the coup against Gorbachev.
He drops names at a rate which would not disgrace Dempster's diary. As a parliamentary correspondent, he was chased down Westminster corridors by Tom Driberg; as an undergraduate editor, he commissioned Kenneth Tynan. He discussed film-making with Orson Welles in Paris, the crucifixion with Dali in Spain and was treated to a very laboured pun on his "behind" by Noel Coward.
Politicians too came within his orbit. Lady Thatcher prodded his chest to illustrate her credo "See, see, see; learn, learn, learn", while his association with Jeremy Thorpe almost led to his arrest in the Norman Scott case. He flitted from East End low-life (the Krays provided him with "Mad Teddy" Smith as a minder) to Hollywood high life (organising Judy Garland's birthday party). And that is not to mention Colin Wilson, Caitlin Thomas, Joan Littlewood, old Aunty Diana Cooper and all.
His most sustained claim to fame is as a denizen of Soho and a modern Vasari to artists from John Minton and Lucian Freud to Gilbert and George and Damien Hirst. His closest association, however, was with Francis Bacon. Much of what he writes on Bacon has appeared elsewhere, although it is salutary to discover that even such a privileged eye can fail - as when he congratulated David Sainsbury on a Bacon portrait of his father, only to be informed, stiffly, that it was his mother.
There is not much evidence that his current retirement in Devon has left any time for reflection. On the contrary: despite the initial promise that, because he has no family to embarrass, he is discarding reticence, he engages in little introspection and less self-revelation. He is happy to discuss Francis Bacon's masochism but - apart from revealing that he belonged to a world where AC/DC meant "he liked soldiers and sailors" - he tells us very little about his own affairs. It's a strange lacuna given a concluding admission that sexuality has ruled his life. Likewise, he discusses his father's alcoholism, while merely reporting his own penchant for two or three bottles of spirits a day.
Ultimately, both the strength and weakness of these memoirs rests in the fact that Farson is, primarily, a photographer: a profession that has become almost a fictional shorthand for the moral vacuum at the heart of great events. What he provides is a series of vivid snapshots, devoid of any attempt to set them in a broader context. The blessing is that he has had such fascinating subjects in front of his lens.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who left house after argument with her parents
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 4 Amy Schumer: 'I'm 160lbs and can catch a d**k any time I want'
- 5 Isis executes three gay men by dangling them from top of 100ft building and letting go
Syd Barrett's inner visions
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Simon Cowell 'feels like an idiot' after Jules and Matisse scandal
Game of Thrones season 6: George RR Martin doing 'anything he can' to get new book The Winds of Winter out before next HBO series airs
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Prison Break revival series planned by Fox with Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers
Russian 'aggression' sees Poland rearm its military as minister warns: 'We must be ready'