Telegraph axe will not silence the many voices of Craig Brown

The parodist is not short of publications keen to carry his columns, says Matthew Bell
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The Independent Online

For someone who has just been sacked, Craig Brown is in remarkably good spirits. "Why shouldn't they get rid of me?" he muses. "I'm a freelancer; I have no loyalty to them, they have no loyalty to me." Readers of The Daily Telegraph, where his parodies of modern life have appeared for the past 14 years, may feel differently. For many, his dismissal along with that of waspish literary writer A N Wilson is almost so absurd as to be worthy of Brown's "Way of the World" column.

But fans need not worry – Brown has already been asked to lunch by at least two national newspaper editors, and the comedian Harry Enfield has approached him to write the script for a new character based on Doris Stokes, the "cosy psychic".

Brown wasn't always associated with the Telegraph; in fact he has decorated almost every national paper, including The Independent on Sunday, where he wrote as the reactionary curmudgeon Wallace Arnold. Other alter egos include the trendy liberal Bel Littlejohn and PR girl Su Barking. "And I'm still going to write my Simon Heffer and Liz Hunt columns in the Telegraph," he quips. "I'm told they do well online as they usually contain two of the most searched-for words – 'hanging' and 'bras'."

Brown's career began on Harper's and Queen in the early 1980s, where he presented himself in reception with a feature and was given a job. He later moved to Tatler under Mark Boxer. "It was the first magazine to write about pointless people," says Mary Killen, a colleague of Brown's from those days. "Now everybody does it."

Before joining The Daily Telegraph under Charles Moore, Brown had written for nearly every major title. Two years ago he was approached by the Daily Mail but stayed at the Telegraph when they offered him more money to do less work. "I think the golden days are over for columnists," he says. "Now I'll have to write 10 columns a week for half the pay. I'll probably have to pay for them to appear."

In fact Brown is much in demand: he is a columnist for Vanity Fair, chief book reviewer for the Mail on Sunday and writes a fortnightly parody for Private Eye. "My advice to any freelance writer is to start working early before the whole day encroaches on your brain. John Mortimer starts work at 6am. He has a glass of champagne and works until 11am – well that's five hours' work. People in offices only actually work for about an hour and a half; the rest of the time they're chatting or checking emails."

Apart from avoiding emails Brown's productivity tip is pyjamas. "I would advise every writer to wear them as they stop you from leaving the house. Best are those with a gaping fly – then you can't even answer the door without risking arrest for indecency. I wear them until lunchtime."

Will he miss the Telegraph? "It was fun, but it's hard to feel any anger towards the Barclay Brothers as I have no idea who they are – do they have northern accents, for instance? I imagine them as a gay marriage who have mysteriously produced two sons."

Brown has been inundated with letters of condolence, although is peeved not to have heard from Telegraph editor Will Lewis. "It would just be courteous," he says. "A year or two ago he was all over me when the Mail was trying to poach me. I only met him once, over lunch. Afterwards as we were leaving, he asked if I wanted to go to the loo. It was odd, the editor of The Daily Telegraph checking if I needed a wee. Oddly enough I did. So I'm grateful to him for that at least."

A peek into the library in his Wiltshire house reveals the extent of Brown's research for his Private Eye parodies. Shelves are crammed with volumes such as Anthea Turner's Fools Rush In; My Tune by Simon Bates and, of course, all three volumes of Jordan's autobiography. "Half my books are books I really hate, which is quite rare. But bad books are more revealing than good books as good writers know how to conceal things."

His latest target is Nigella – "You don't talk about bosoms when you're cooking a turkey, do you?" But his pet hate is Parky. "He's the real pits isn't he? The idea that he should be rewarded as the master of chat with a knighthood is laughable. He has a complete lack of curiosity about anyone."

Most people don't seem to mind. "But Al Fayed minds – he sent a solicitor's letter once, which listed all references I had ever made to him, which was gratifying as it meant he had read them all. I once did a gentle parody of Nick Hornby, whom I knew a bit and liked, and he completely hated it. Sometimes it's quite upsetting to think there's somebody who will hate me for the rest of my life just for one piece of writing. But you can't look over your shoulder. I'm not out to hurt people. I'm just making a joke of what they do."

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