Oddly, many of the obituaries for Auberon Waugh claimed that his most significant achievement was the "Diary" he wrote over 13 years for Private Eye. The quote marks are required because it was a pungent combination of fact and fiction. One of his milder musings dates from 1975: "Rather unexpectedly, I found myself in Kathmandu with Prince Charles for the coronation of King Bihendra... the Prince looks particularly fetching in a yashmak with blue paint on his eyelids."
William Cook notes that "amid the surreal flights of fancy were snippets of straightforward reportage and sincerely held opinion and it was this... that made it unique."
There was much more to Waugh, as Cook's deftly edited anthology underlines. His column in The Spectator from 1975-96 was a major reason for buying that journal. His eye-grabbing first lines are an object lesson for anyone who fancies their chances at this tricky genre: "For many years, in my capacity as president... and only member of the Dog Lovers Party, I felt it incumbent on me to point out the salutary effects of dog mess... It provides a form of sustenance to urban toddlers which is free and non-fattening."
The style is that of an urbane pundit but the anarchic sentiments are Swiftian in their ferocity. He had his first column in the Catholic Herald, where in 1963 he wrote opposing the suggestion that black clothes should be banned at funerals: "If kept clean, which the clergy often can't manage, black can be devilishly attractive." Thirty years later, he was in The Oldie writing about the royal family: "The serious, conscientious German housewife, with her relentless common sense, her Danish-German husband, with his relentlessly banal opinions, and their curious brood are the only things keeping us sane in our national decline."
Cook makes a strong case for Waugh's humour ("Kiss me, Chudleigh," was said by the gravely injured Waugh to a corporal after an accident with a machine gun) and acuity: "He denounced the 'Hitler diaries' as forgeries before the Sunday Times published their first instalment." It is unfortunate that some aspects of Waugh's prodigious output have been overlooked. Cook might have included a taster from his extensive writing on food and drink. There is scope for another volume about this explosive satirist.