People: Sorting the bores from the chaps

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A visit to the Soho offices of the Literary Review on a gloomy afternoon is a step back to a time when George Gissing was penning New Grub Street, and urchins lurked in dark alleyways. The creaking staircase is like something out of The Old Curiosity Shop, and when you get to the top you find a space not much bigger than the average sitting room in which no fewer than four people have desks, and the clutter of books, magazines and - quite anachronistically - the odd word processor complicate the business of moving about.

A little shabby it may be. A little chilly too. You are admonished if you don't shut the door behind you. But the atmosphere is thoroughly cheerful, and it seems to emanate from the benign presence of the gentleman in the corner who wears a three-piece grey flannel suit of a cut that puts one in mind of Dennis Price in Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Like many institutions, Auberon Waugh appears unaware that he is one. At 58, he continues to edit the Literary Review, and newspaper articles still pour from his pen. If he is even blither than usual, it is perhaps because something dear to his heart has come back to him that he thought he had lost.

Six years ago Bron Waugh founded the Academy Club - a literary hang-out round the corner from the offices - that offered somewhere "to meet the people one wanted to meet and not the bores one didn't want to". Then, at the beginning of 1996, the man who owned the premises, the Literary Review's then publisher Naim Attallah, decided he wanted to reclaim them, and the club ceased to be.

For nearly two years Waugh has entertained himself, and his writers, at the Andrew Edmunds wine bar. Now Mr Edmunds has given over his first floor for use as the home of a new Academy Club - the spiritual son of the old one, according to Waugh.

The proximity of the original club was always important to Waugh. The new one - to open in February - is so close it is virtually an extension of the offices.

Waugh is now busy re-establishing the membership list, having learnt some lessons from building it up the first time round. "At the very beginning we invited writers to present to the committee what they thought was their best book, and if we liked it we offered them membership. We got about 150 people that way. But then we looked at them and decided we didn't like them very much."

Then there was the poet problem. Waugh has long been the scourge of poetry "that doesn't scan or rhyme or make sense", an antipathy that extends to poets generally. "Terrible people. They don't pay for their drinks, their cheques bounce, they're always sponging - they're actually very disagreeable. It's been one of the major discoveries of my life." Any other restrictions potential members should be aware of? "The usual bans on things like those telephone machines. Oh, and you've got to wear shoes. That's the only dress requirement." Transgressions of some kind or other must have occurred - four old members "who made a nuisance of themselves" are not being invited to re-join.

Waugh is keen to stress that the Academy Club is very much not the Groucho Club in that what counts is being clever or funny rather than famous. "We don't want people sucking up to other people."

"The Groucho started as a club for writers," says Mandana Ruane, the Academy Club's manager, "but it's been taken over by people with money."

So will Waugh's legacy turn out to be not his novels or his journalism but the Academy Club? "Oh I don't think so. It's just a convenience. It's not a memorial. Nothing lasts for ever. If it's here for 10 years we'll be doing well." Good health, Bron.

TO spend time with Bron Waugh is to imagine that the world of letters really is as polite and as gentlemanly as the myth would have us believe. Of course we know it isn't really like that, and hasn't been for years. Further proof comes to me with reports of a recent gathering at a leading London publishers. A senior appointee has called a meeting to introduce himself to new staff and to find out a little about them. "First of all, I'd like you all to tell me who you are," he announces, looking round the room, "and then I'd like you to tell me who you are f....ing."

Tables turn for yesterday's man

PETER HOBDAY remembers interviewing Harriet Harman on the Today programme about three years ago. "She was getting very steamed up about the Tories' policy on benefits for lone mothers," he recalls. "But when I asked her if Labour would change it if they got into power she wouldn't answer. Of course, because she was in opposition nobody bothered about it."

Experiences like that enable the former Today presenter to regard Labour's recent attack on John Humphrys with wry amusement. "It fascinates me that it's taken Labour less than a year to say the same things about the Today programme that the Tories always said about it."

Hobday was last heard on the programme two years ago. Much less abrasive than Humphrys or Brian Redhead, he suddenly found he was not required any longer, wondering - not without a trace of bitterness - whether it was because "I was too old, too male or too middle-class".

There is no cause for disillusionment now. Hobday is returning to regular BBC presentation early in the New Year when he becomes the voice of Radio 3's new weekday morning programme Masterworks. He told me he finds the prospect of presenting a live music programme - even one in which the likes of Beethoven and Mozart will be providing the sounds - more daunting than doing Today.

"To some extent you could do Today on automatic pilot. You knew what the issues were, you were doing two- or three-minute interviews. In the political interviews there came a point where you virtually knew what the person was going to say beforehand anyway."

For Masterworks, Hobday has had to gen up on his tempi and his Toscanini. Last week he was doing this at his 700-year-old cottage in the Somerset village of East Coker, made famous by TS Eliot's Four Quartets and the subject of a book Hobday is writing. "It's got an extraordinary history," he says. A case of here Today, not gone tomorrow, I suppose.

Jane and Joel's bedroom expose

JANE TREAYS must be the nicest, jolliest, warmest corrupter of the nation's morals you could ever wish to meet. I did so last week as the first stirrings of press titillation - sorry, indignation - began to register over a documentary she has made for the BBC.

"Peeping Tom TV", the Times called it. "Sex shocker that goes further than anything we've ever seen on our screens before", went one tabloid. Inevitably it wasn't long before Mary Whitehouse was raising her voice in protest.

The film - What Kind of Gentleman Are You After? - is about a male prostitute. Only this prostitute is a married man with four children, and his clients are women - he's got 1,200 in all. Three of them - as well as Joel the prostitute - allow the film crew right into the bedroom, and they talk quite freely and rather engagingly about what they're up to.

Then there's Joel's wife. She doesn't shirk the cameras either. It makes for riveting viewing. Yet the film is so deft, and treats its subjects so sensitively that, having seen it, I have to say I don't feel especially depraved. What you do ask yourself at the end of it, though, is: "How on earth did these people ever agree to take part in a film?"

Pure exhibitionism, you might say. "Confessional" TV. We all want to discuss our personal lives in intimate detail in front of 10 million viewers. I'm not sure that we all do, actually, and in the case of What Kind of Gentleman Are You After? (to be shown on 7 January as part of BBC2's Under the Sun series) the evidence points to the sheer winningness of Ms Treays, whose gorgeous laugh is detectable in the voice of the off-screen questioner.

"I don't think I could ever make a film about anyone I didn't like," she says. "I do tend to become part of people's lives as I go along. I ended up doing the hoovering in Joel's house." But what about the clients? "I made it clear that they could pull out of the filming at any time. They were intelligent women with minds of their own who knew what they wanted. What really interested me was the way they were turning centuries of sexual behaviour on its head."

What Kind of Gentleman Are You After? adds to a body of work that puts Ms Treays right up alongside Molly Dineen, of The Ark fame, and Nick Broomfield as a maker of revealing documentaries. Perhaps you recall Painted Babies, about five-year-old beauty contestants in the American South, or the one about the Dionne quintuplets, or last year's good-natured dissection of Country Life magazine. They were all hers.

So be careful if she ever wants to make a film about you. You might not be able to say no.

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