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Craig Brown: The satirist on death threats from Harold Pinter - and why Jeremy Clarkson makes him feel like a woman


Has anyone ever told you they enjoyed your parody of them?

Roy Jenkins. The last thing he ever wrote, as far as I know, was a card which they found on his desk after he died saying he'd enjoyed the parody I'd just done of his book. Harold Pinter, I saw at a party across a room, and he made a throttling gesture at me and the hostess said to him, "Do you want to punch him?" and he said "I wouldn't dirty my fists".

Have you met anyone you've done a parody of?

Oh yes, all the time. But the key thing is, if you're avoiding someone, they tend to be avoiding you too, so usually it doesn't matter.

I met Amanda Platell at the press awards and she said, "Ah, I so love your parody of me, I can recite it". I thought it was a pretty vicious parody, but in front of the table she did the whole thing, word for word. Maybe she was trying to show me it was water off a duck's back.

I remember [former Private Eye editor] Richard Ingrams telling me about an incredible cartoon of [former Prime Minister, James] Callaghan. He thought Callaghan would never recover from it and then Richard went to some drinks reception at Number 11 and it was hanging on the loo wall. As they say, all satire ends up as decoration.

Do you find reality can be more absurd than anything you could make up?

Oh, yes. I underline things in interviews they've done and then often I refer back and think, "Oh God, their phrase is much, much better". I use about 50 per cent of exactly their words. Some I have to tone down. There's one I sometimes do at literary festivals. It's Janet Street-Porter describing going to Buckingham Palace. So I do her straight and then I do a parody. I stopped doing the parody because nobody laughs as much as at the real thing and it makes me look like a feeble copy.

There's a debate at the moment around comedy and freedom of speech, vis-à-vis Jeremy Clarkson. What do you make of him?

I don't like that version of manhood. I feel like a woman when I'm watching him. Or that I want to be a woman, or something. Anyone who is on screen for that long is bound to end up revolting. He is ghastly. But if I had to choose between him and Piers Morgan, I'd save him and push Piers Morgan out of the balloon.

So Piers Morgan is enemy number one, then?

He's in the same section of the Mail on Sunday with me. I don't know how much he gets paid but I imagine it's three times as much as me, maybe four times. I thought once he was sacked from CNN that would be the end of his column. He's trying to eke it out. I don't know if you read his column, it's something you do despite yourself. He goes to The Ivy and goes up and speaks to Harrison Ford, so he's still name-dropping. I hope his days are numbered.

How distant do you keep from your work?

I think anger is earnest and quite often unmerited. When you look back in two years' time, you think, "What was I getting so het up about?". It's also part of journalism that you have to inject a sense of panic or fury, and yet life carries on much the same. Even if [Nigel] Farage was elected, it wouldn't make that much difference. Or if Piers Morgan were Prime Minister... well, of course, that would be completely ghastly.


Craig Brown is a satirist and critic, best known for his parodic diary in ‘Private Eye’. He attended Eton and Bristol University and has been described by Stephen Fry as “the wittiest writer in Britain today”. He is set to appear at the Curious Arts Festival in Hampshire, 18-20 July