The history of the great British feud will have to be updated: two new rows have been added to the canon. The first is about racism, Islamophobia and the nature of truth. The second is about soup.
Not that soup, in this case, was the first course. The row between Sir Terence Conran and Stephen Bayley has been simmering for years, although it came to the boil last week. At the same time Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was becoming embroiled in an even more bitter dispute with fellow writers. The Independent on Sunday and its sister paper are proud that our columnists are contributing to the gaiety of the nation. But they are not alone: everybody seems to be at it.
Like Lennon and McCartney, Burton and Taylor or Thatcher and Lawson, Conran and Bayley started out close and have ended up tossing insults at each other. We do love a row. "Terence rescued me," Bayley once admitted, explaining how his mentor had plucked him from obscurity and turned him into a design guru. But they parted company in 1989 when Bayley flounced out after the opening of the Design Museum, in what he called an "existential funk". The fur has flown ever since.
In his 2001 autobiography, Conran called Bayley "the worst administrator in a long line of worst administrators that I've ever met" with "the temperament of a hummingbird moth on LSD". Bayley fought back. "His autobiography is deranged in its selective vision," he announced. "I don't give a fuck what Terence says ... Well, I do."
Each man takes it in turns to stir the pot. Earlier this year, Bayley added another dash of salt in a review of Conran's Floridita Cuban restaurant in Soho. "Strange that Terence Conran, who made his life's ambition to obliterate cynical, middle-class mediocrity, has followed tragic vectors to become that which he once despised," he wrote, gleefully.
For a while, things went quiet. But then, just as it seemed the pair had run out of feuding material, there was soup. It was an article in Waitrose Food Illustrated, entitled "I detest soup" that infuriated Conran. "I didn't write it to annoy Terence," Bayley said yesterday. "But looking back, it could have been calculated to antagonise him. He does have an emotional attachment to soup. His first restaurant was called Soup Kitchen."
Indeed, Conran was not amused. "Stephen Bayley's ridiculous article about detesting soup is enough to make you detest Stephen Bayley,'' he has written to the magazine. "When Bayley ends up on the dole, he might find that soup's nourishing quality gives him back a zest for life. A new book, Soup Kitchen ... celebrates soup in all its wonderful variety. Read it, Stephen, and lick your pompous lips."
Meanwhile, pomposity has been rearing its ugly head in another row. And, like Bayley and Conran, the protagonists have been slugging it out in print. "Here, there, and everywhere, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown pops up to tell the world about the racism she encounters," was how the columnist Cristina Odone started it a month ago. "Everywhere it seems white supremacists are ganging up on poor Alibhai-Brown." The piece was an infuriated attack on Alibhai-Brown's columns, one of which was quoted as referring to David Goodhart, editor of Prospect magazine, suggesting "immigrants" like her should "go home".
A volley of insults followed. Alibhai-Brown repeated the comments that she claims Goodhart made to her at a party. Goodhart retaliated. "I never said such a thing and do not believe it to be true." But he upped the stakes, commenting on Alibhai-Brown's "lazy, debate-closing distortion".
"I never use the word racist easily," seethed Alibhai-Brown in response. "But I do think he is part of a new wave that has been building up since The Satanic Verses." Goodhart returned fire. "Yasmin is a kind of victim of 9/11," he spat. "She spent six months in television studios and it rather went to her head." Of Odone, Alibhai-Brown merely sniffed, "I have no respect."
Alibhai-Brown, Bayley, Conran et al would do well to proceed with caution. Even more brilliant minds than theirs have diminished themselves in the name of a row. The American giants Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer traded literary punches over each other's writing during an epic and vituperative spat that finally came to real blows. As Vidal picked himself up from the floor he huffed, "Words fail Norman Mailer once again."
Who hates whom: all you need to know
The restaurateur Terence Conran feuds with the writer Stephen Bayley, who has feuded with the EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson ever since Bayley left as creative director of the Millennium Dome. "I was hugely gratified when it failed," Bayley says. "I had the biggest I-told-you-so hard-on on the planet."
For his part, Mandelson feuds with the Today presenter John Humphrys to the extent of writing to the BBC in complaint. Humphrys hit back, saying, "I asked somebody why they all take an instant dislike to Mandelson and he said, 'It saves time.'"
Humphrys has feuded with the artist Tracey Emin since he accused her of being a self-publicist and she called him an "arrogant sandal-wearer". She also rows with her ex-boyfriend, Billy Childish, who co-founded the Stuckists, based on her assessment of his work.
Humphrys feuds about reality TV with the columnist Julie Burchill. People like him, who hate it, clearly "hate the human race in general and the working class especially," she says. Burchill also had "fax wars" against the feminist writer Camille Paglia. "Dear Professor Paglia," wrote Burchill. "Fuck off, you crazy old dyke." But mostly Burchill feuds with her ex-Modern Review partner, Toby Young. "The feud between myself and Julie Burchill is like Freddie Kruger," he says. "When you think it has finally been killed it roars back to life."
Toby Young feuds with Graydon Carter, his former employer at Vanity Fair, who calls him "the most asinine person I have ever met".
Graydon Carter feuds with the editor and socialite Tina Brown, who beat him to the editorship of the New Yorker. Brown also feuds with Toby Young who called her a "ruthless social climber".
She feuds with the writer John le Carré, who objected to a book review in the New Yorker by the commentator Francis Wheen, which he called: "one of the ugliest examples of partisan journalism that I have ever witnessed".
Wheen and his colleague Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, feud with the ex-Mirror editor Piers Morgan, who calls Hislop a "moon-faced little midget". Morgan feuds with the former Sun editor David Yelland. When asked whether this is because Yelland sacked Morgan's then-girlfriend from the Sun, Morgan said: "No, I just think he's a bald little twat."
Morgan has come to blows with the Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. "I still have a two-inch scar from his ring down the right side of my forehead," said Morgan. "Never could stand jewellery on a man." Clarkson responded: "Piers Morgan you are an arsehole."
Clarkson's Sun colleague Jane Moore feuds with "the attention-seeking" columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, whose feud is noted above.
Alibhai-Brown feuds with Clarkson, who doesn't notice.
Meanwhile, le Carré's feud with the author Salman Rushdie started with fatwahs and anti-Semitism and ended in mud-slinging. Their exchange of letters in The Guardian concluded bitchily: "If he wants to win an argument, John le Carré could begin by learning to read."
Rushdie in turn feuds with the writer AS Byatt, who accused his friend Martin Amis of "turkeycocking". "I always earn out advances and I don't see why I should subsidise his greed, simply because he has a divorce to pay for and has just had all his teeth redone," she tutted. Rushdie accused her of character assassination.
Amis feuds with former friend Julian Barnes, after ditching his literary agent, Pat Kavanagh - Barnes's wife - for Andrew Wylie and calling Barnes "uxorious".
Barnes still feuds with Andrew Wylie, after damning him in a letter to Amis.
Wylie feuds with the writer Tibor Fischer, who is disgusted by Amis's huge advances and said his novel Yellow Dog "is not-knowing-where-to-look bad". But Barnes also feuds with Fischer. "The thing about killing the father is you've got to write better than the father, especially in the piece where you're trying to kill him [Amis]," he says. "This piece wasn't well written."
Martin Amis maintains that feuds are passé. "Literary feuds went out of fashion with the Salman Rushdie fatwah," he says, airily.Reuse content