Jeffrey Bernard says farewell

Every week until his death he treated readers of The Spectator to stories of his `low life'. The day before he died he received Elisabeth Anderson and other colleagues at his bedside. They shared some good tales

It was Michael Heath, The Spectator's cartoon editor, who gave us the news that Jeff had decided to stop the dialysis which was keeping him alive. The doctors had given him seven to 10 days. Jeff had been sending weekly reports from his deathbed for so long that we all believed he was immortal. Now we faced the possibility that this really might be the end, and there would be no more instalments of "Low life". Jeff's habitual gloom was often lightened by visitors and conversation - perhaps a deputation from The Spectator could make him change his mind.

We made our way to his flat on the 14th floor of a grimy tower block on Berwick Street on Wednesday afternoon, and walked into Jeff's bedroom clutching five enormous sunflowers. "I'll have to cut off my ear," was Jeff's reaction. He was slumped in his bed, his frail head poking out from under his duvet. By his side on the bed was a cardboard box lid containing a large cup of strong brown tea, and a packet of Senior Service nestling among the cigarette stubs.

`Frank [The Spectator's editor] came to see me last week. He's mad. Some very strange friends."

Jeff asked his home help, Vera, to help him sit up. He began to talk more animatedly, perhaps because four women were now gathered round him: three Spectator ladies and Vera, who although retired seemed to spend as much time looking after him as she always had done. One of us perched on the bed; Vera took the wheelchair. We fed him titbits of

Spectator gossip, and he launched into a tale about the mother of one of our regular contributors.

"His mother Lady - and a well known one-legged racehorse trainer were having tea in a London hotel. After tea, the trainer said, `Let's get down to business'; he then unscrewed his wooden leg and hopped across the room - must have been bloody strong, I couldn't have done it - and leapt on her. She didn't put up much of a fight."

There was a pause while his eyelids drooped and he seemed to drift off. The morphia was having its effect. Now that he was home from hospital there were no "caring" nurses to dictate the dosage or forbid his smoking. There was a stirring under the duvet and a gnarled hand reached out for a cigarette. Then he was off again.

"I went to drink at the Pickwick after the play I was in ended, to wind down. I hate that term wind down, whatever it means, I always think it's wind up. Marlene Dietrich was there and she came up to me and said, `My name is Marlene Dietrich,' and she shook my hand, as if I didn't know who she was. Of course I knew who she bloody was. I'd seen her when I first went on stage - she was right in front. She said, `The play was wonderful darling [Jeff put on a heavy accent], and you were wonderful, darling.' I sat there for three hours being flattered by Marlene Dietrich. I couldn't sleep that night. I kept thinking, Marlene Dietrich thinks I'm wonderful. How pathetic."

Listening to these tales, we were immersed again in his peculiar "Low life" world. I were almost as if he were dictating his latest column. Indeed, for the past few years, since sitting at a typewriter had become too strenuous, he had regularly dictated his copy to Jessica Nettleton, another Spectator lady of whom he had become very fond and hardly ever snarled at. "Jeff," we pleaded, "all you need do is turn on a tape recorder, and we would have your next column right here."

"I've resigned - didn't you know? - but Frank wants me to write a farewell piece."

"But Jeff, you can't resign," we all chorused. "We need you."

He opened his sleepy blue eyes. "You know what a sucker I am for flattery."

"Why don't you go back on dialysis?"

"I can't. I'd look such a bloody fool if I changed my mind now."

He glanced at Vera.

"I know what a pain I am. It's cold." Cue for a hot cup of tea. That and another cigarette seemed to revive him again.

"I never got the credit," he grumbled. "When I had my leg cut off, I wrote my column four days later - only four days after, and nobody gave me any credit! The editor [the previous one] even put, `Jeffrey Bernard has had his leg off'. I thought that bloody insensitive."

If you were editor, we asked him, what would you do?

"I'd sack half the writers for a start," muttered Jeff.

"Which ones?"

"Well the first person I'd get rid of would be myself - and Taki, probably, and Paul Johnson, and that awful Mary woman at the back - can't stand her column ..."

A fifth woman appeared at the door - his niece Kate - and it seemed a signal for us to leave. The fan club had outgrown his small bedroom, and Jeff was tiring.

Still, the attentions of the fan club had seemed to cheer him up, and we went away with the faint hope that in all his contrary way he might surprise us all and go on defying death for ever. Jeff had a few more visitors that day but by the evening he was drifting in and out of consciousness; he died the following night

This article is reprinted from the current edition of `The Spectator'.

Suggested Topics
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

    £17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'