The agreeable world of Wallace Arnold: Egg on my Bacon

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The Independent Online
HATS OFF to my old friend and quaffing partner Daniel Farson for managing to find a publisher for his latest oeuvre (dread word]) which rejoices in the mouthful of a title, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon.

Like many of the greatest minds of our time (the estimable Mr Enoch Powell among 'em) I am a dedicated Baconian, believing it quite inconceivable that William Shakespeare, the ill-educated and frankly 'gorblimey' (no offence to our more leftish readers]) son of a Stratford glover, could have written the plays attributed to him. Far more likely, methinks, that they were the product of the aristocratic pen of Francis, Baron Verulam of Verulam, Viscount St Albans - or My Lord Francis Bacon for short.

It was Enoch, indeed, who first introduced me to the unarguable proposition that Bacon was Shakespeare (or should that be vice-versa?) Enoch is full of such intriguing theories - another is that the late Elisabeth Frink was in fact Jon Pertwee - and I took to this one like a duck to the proverbial H2 O. How delightful, then, that Dan Farson should choose to point his pen at this most dastardly of cover-ups.

Imagine my shock, then, having coughed up my none-too- proverbial pounds 15, upon realising that the Francis Bacon in question was not my Francis Bacon but the ne'er-do-well dauber of sundry persons with squishy faces; Popes screaming blue murder; sheep's carcasses hanging in unsuitable areas in contravention of all recent Health and Hygiene regulations.

Incidentally, might I point out to students of journalism and belles lettres that the passages above are what experts of the genre would term a 'classic opening', involving all the ingredients of the master columnist, including mistaken identity (Bacon/ Bacon), the enticing dropping of a famous name (Powell, Enoch; Frink, Elisabeth; Pertwee, Jon), the easy familiarity with the subject under discussion ('Dan' Farson), the jocular allusion to water ('the proverbial H2 O'), and the long-held and deeply considered cultural opinion (Shakespeare). But I digress.

Personally, I had little time for Bacon the painter. It was in 1978 that, as Artistic Director of the Sainsbury Foundation, I was instructed to commission a great living artist - if any] - to portray the Leading Figures of Our Time, including Lord Goodman, Mr (now Sir) Edward Heath, HRH Princess Margaret, and Sir (now Lord) George Weidenfeld for the permanent collection of the Sainsbury Centre.

Taking soundings, I was advised by those 'in the know' that Giacometti, though an artist of considerable calibre, would find it hard to sculpt the equally considerable girths of Edward, Arnold and George for the sum agreed. His regular sitters, it seemed, tended to be on the skinny side: anything fuller- figured, and his prices would go through the roof.

So I turned to Francis Bacon, cornering him in a Soho drinking emporium of unsavoury reputation. I emerged having commissioned a series of portraits at an all-in price, regardless of total body weight.

The results were unveiled in the All-Purpose Domestos Wing of the Sainsbury Centre. Weidenfeld was portrayed in his birthday suit, eating what looked like a lamb chop, blood spurting hither and thither; Heath was pictured in triplicate, his face formed of every hue of the rainbow; Arnold was little more than a blue blob sitting in what seemed to be an empty frigidaire; and HRH Princess Margaret was portrayed as a collection of buttocks of indeterminate sex. 'The very finest examples of modern art,' purred Sister Wendy when cutting the ribbon. 'I feel that, above all, they express God's great love for mankind.'

I'm afraid at this point I saw red. 'I beg to differ]' I screamed, but Bacon had already pocketed his cheque, and was beetling off to the nearest speakeasy.

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