Browned off: teased Taki, peeved Perry, harangued Harry

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The Independent Online
FOR A number of years there have been two excellent columns in the Spectator, side by side. One is Jeffrey Bernard's 'Low Life', which formed the basis for the Keith Waterhouse play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, and the other is Taki's 'High Life' column, which nobody has ever turned into a play.

Last week, however, Taki's column was turned, not into a play, but into a piece of satire. Every fortnight in Private Eye, the humorist Craig Brown (who may or may not be the same person as Craig Brown, the Scotland football manager) writes a feature called 'Diary', in which he parodies a different person's style.

In the last issue, he did a 'Diary' by Taki which didn't really parody Taki's style so much as his subject matter (the dropping of all those rich and famous names). 'Over luncheon that day,' wrote Craig 'Taki' Brown, 'Ted Kennedy bragged that he had been to bed with hundreds of girls and could beat anyone at tennis. We Greeks are not amused by braggers, particularly when we are infinitely better at tennis than them and have bedded hundreds more girls, but that is the way of the Kennedys . . .'

By Craig Brown's high standards it wasn't a tip-top parody, though enjoyably knockabout. Still, it must have drawn blood, because a day or two later the Spectator came out, bearing a red flash on the front cover reading 'TAKI ATTACKS CRAIG BROWN'. Indeed he did. Pausing only to reveal that he had once been savaged by Craig Brown in print many years previously, he went on to revile Brown as an unbearably ugly, jealous, socially undistinguished literary thug who was so undesirable a person that he was actually barred from eating at Annabel's. The odd thing was that nowhere in the 'High Life' piece did Taki mention the Private Eye parody which had just come out and which, presumably, had caused this explosion.

It isn't often that you see a feud breaking out before your very eyes or at least that you see hacks hacking at each other in such an 18th-century Grub Street manner, and I found it quite invigorating. Of course, it's always easier to be rude about someone than nice, and almost impossible to be amusingly nice about someone. So I was delighted to open the latest Literary Review and find that Craig Brown can be nice about someone, and get away with it.

What he is being nice about is the newly published book of diaries by Alan Bennett, whom Brown calls the most lovable of our playwrights. Brown develops an interesting theory about unlovable dramatists, suggesting that anyone who writes unlovable plays about dislocations in our society may be covering up dislocations in himself, and I am afraid this leads him to say some very wounding things about Harold Pinter, whom he sees as the theatrical equivalent of Margaret Thatcher - perhaps you can't get all the way through a Craig Brown piece without seeing his claws.

However, to add a bit of vinegar to a story which is threatening to get sweet, there is a review of Craig Brown's first novel, The Hounding of John Thomas, in the same issue of the Literary Review. 'Having often been most odiously pilloried by the satirist Craig Brown,' writes Peregrine Worsthorne, 'I was rather looking forward to giving this novel a good review. What easier ways to win plaudits for magnanimity. In any case, I am devoted to his wife Frances, who is the daughter of my oldest friend. In the event, however, with the best will in the world . . .'

In the event, Worsthorne does not like Brown's first novel. He finds it very tiresome.

And what has all this got to do with anything? Well, my hunch is that the whole thing is being stage managed by Keith Waterhouse, who thinks it may be the only way of getting Taki's column turned into a play. My forecast is that in future episodes we may see Harold Pinter savage Craig Brown, Taki review Craig Brown's new novel to tatters and Craig Brown being banned from a lot more restaurants. Peregrine Worsthorne's oldest friend, Colin Welch, will come out of the shadows from time to time and frown sadly, before vanishing again. Then suddenly, when Craig Brown thinks he has no friends left at all, Alan Bennett appears, waving his wand, and takes Craig Brown to dinner at Annabel's.

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