Miles Kington: Dorothy Squires was a fan of mine, I recall...

Larry Adler was such a compulsive raconteur he even used his answering machine to inflict a story on you

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It was even more of a shock to look at the photo accompanying the article and see how much he had changed. No longer dark, he was now chubby and round-faced, bespectacled and grinning owlishly. I hardly recognised him at all.

The reason for which, I swiftly realised with some relief, was that it was not a picture of Pinter at all. It was a picture of Michael Billington, who was writing the article. But why (apart from cock-ups in The Guardian's photo department) would the paper use a picture of Billington instead of Pinter ?

It must be the Dorothy Squires effect.

Dorothy Squires was the Welsh-born singer who was married for a time to Roger Moore. What I most remember about her was that when Elvis Presley died, she was one of the singers asked by the Melody Maker to give them a quote on the King's death.

"Poor Elvis," she said. "He was my greatest fan."

You see how it works? In a situation where there is a big star and a lesser star, the proportions are changed so that, for whatever reason, the lesser star appears in the foreground and the megastar in the background.

It happened with Clive James, in the days when he was thought to be more important than any TV programme he ever reviewed. It happens every time an interviewer is deemed to be more interesting and amusing than the subject of the interview. "The Lynn Barber Interview", the heading will say, and you have to scratch around for a moment to see which insignificant star the great Lynn Barber is interviewing this week.

The same inverse mirror effect applies to the world of book reviews. Look at any book pages, or the contents list of a magazine like the Literary Review and you will see that the name of the reviewer is always in bigger print and more capitals than the name of the book's writer. ALISON LEFTWOOD (big big letters) reviews the new novel by (smaller and smaller) John le Carré.

Shall we also mention the merry world of restaurant reviews, where the critic is the star and the poor chef merely a straight man who feeds the star reviewer the chance to shine? No, we shall not. We shall go straight to Larry Adler, who was for me the master of the Dorothy Squires effect. I used to know Larry in the days when I was literary editor of Punch and he liked writing book reviews, so one day I phoned to ask him to do a piece.

It must have been a long time ago, because it was the first time I had ever encountered a telephone answering machine.

"Hi," said a voice, "Larry Adler here, except I'm not here, only this machine is here, with my pre-recorded voice on it."

In those days, children, you actually had to explain to people what was happening.

"If you want to leave a message, just record it after I've finished speaking. Meanwhile, I wonder if you have heard this story about the time I worked with George Gershwin ..."

Yes, Larry Adler was such a compulsive raconteur that he would even use his telephone answering machine to inflict a story on you. I cannot now remember the details of that particular yarn, though you had to listen to it all the way through if you wanted to leave a message, but I do remember that Larry Adler and Gershwin were the two main figures in it, and that at the end Larry Adler said something to Gershwin, and the punch-line was that Gershwin said admiringly to Larry Adler, "Larry - only you could have thought of that !"

It's then that you realise that it wasn't a story about Gershwin at all. It was a Larry Adler story in which Gershwin played a bit part.

Dorothy Squires effect, or what ?

Miles Kington's book 'Someone Like Me: Tales From a Borrowed Childhood', is published by Headline at £16.99. To order a copy at the special price of £15.50 (free p&p) call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897, or order online at www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk

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