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
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
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: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000

    £13000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

    Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?