John Gross

Further to yesterday’s obituary of John Gross, as well as being formidably well read, John was also intensely clubbable, writes
Rhoda Koenig.

"John’s exactly the same as Proust,” the debonair editor and cartoonist Mark Boxer once observed in a languidly wicked moment. “The only difference is, he doesn’t write the book.” John’s acquaintance among the rich and glamorous was astonishingly wide, especially for a literary man, and one who dressed like one.

He was frequently a walker to Drue Heinz and others whose conversation was not, whatever they may have thought, known for its wit and erudition. In their presence, his own was known for its emollience. I was once present when, at a party after a first night, she expressed puzzlement at an extremely obvious point in the play. John, nodding respectfully at her while looking nervously at me, said that it had puzzled him too.

John was also careful not to wound the sensibilities of his friends and acquaintances and other well-known people in the literary world. Fortunately for those who knew him, however, his courtly silence was limited to print. “Antonia Fraser keeps complaining that I didn’t have her novel reviewed until a year after it appeared. Well, that’s how long it took to find someone who would give it a good review.” At a PEN conference, he whispered to me, while Margaret Atwood was speaking, “That voice! It’s like being driven back and forth across Winnipeg on a Sunday night.” Margaret Drabble’s editing of The Oxford Companion to English Literature, he said, was appalling. “She knows nothing about the Jacobeans.”

John’s wit was frequently called upon to relieve his feelings in New York, a city better supplied with wealthy socialities than literary wits. Two New York Times executives, Jews known for their self-importance and their belief that they could not be more assimilated, were called by John (after characters in an ethnic low-comedy series of the ’20s) Potash and Perlmutter.

In his last years John worried about his memory – though he retained 10,000 times more than other literary people knew. Many of our conversations were full of allusions to our love of musical comedy and music hall. Struggling to remember a quotation once, he sighed and said, “Sorry, my dear, I’m afraid it’s all Lily of Lacuna now."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Ashdown Group: Business Relationship Manager

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Business Relationship Manager - Enfield, North Lond...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea