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.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: The most extreme fan reactions on Twitter
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust