William Donaldson's Week: A novel of the right class

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MY FRIEND Craig Brown has come up with an interesting variation on Judd's Paradox, which, you may remember, is that if it's rational to work only with your intellectual superiors then you can't work with them since they, obviously, will refuse to work with you.

Selfishly preoccupied with my own concerns (specifically, whom to work with on El Independo, my exciting satirical soap opera for BBC 2) and quite forgetting that Brown was meant to be writing a comic novel for Random House, I took him out to lunch on Tuesday and asked him to join the El Independo team.

'I'm flattered,' he said, 'but why me? I have no experience of writing narrative drama.'

I said phooey to experience, thereafter pointing out that it was all a question of class. I'd been persuaded by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, I said, that one could only work 'agreeably' with one's social equals. Collaboration was like a marriage, after all - and mixed marriages seldom worked.

'Take the Waleses,' I said. 'As Classy Cressida is forever pointing out, the liaison was doomed from the moment her friend Diana, with youthful impetuosity, married into a family commoner than hers.'

I then explained that had I not already been aware of Sir Peregrine's Principle I would have recognised its thrust during the recce in 1990 for Root Into Europe.

'A dreadful show,' said Brown.

'That's as may be,' I said, 'but on the recce, and when the chips were down, Justin Judd and I naturally lined up against the other two - Mark Chapman, the director, and Jeremy Lovering, the red-hot researcher. I'm not saying that Chapman and Lovering are common - although they are - merely that when the torpedoes are running, background counts. I can't write El Independo with chaps who take their jackets off, roll their sleeves up and eat bananas. You and I, however, appear to be of much the same class - notwithstanding the fact that you went to Eton rather than Winchester.'

'I take your point,' said Brown. 'I gather, however, that El Independo is to deal with the great perennial themes: class, deference, proletarian envy, intellectual deprivation west of Torpoint . . .'

'And for sophisticated people such as ourselves,' I said, 'a titillating dash of drugs, surgical stirrups and lesbian chic.'

'Excellent]' said Brown. 'You'll not shrink, then, from touching - tastefully, of course - on Penny, your beloved's, very 1993 relationship with Abby From The Eighties?'

'Absolutely not,' I said. 'Though their more delightfully erotic evolutions will not be shown, of course, until after 1am.'

'Good,' said Brown. 'However, while you and I can, clearly, write scenes involving well-born boulevardiers such as ourselves, Classy Cressida, the Princess of Wales, etc, who will deal with the common characters? I'm referring to Penny, your beloved, her Fat Benefactor and his vulgar friends - regatta types who live in bungalows with musical door-chimes?'

'Easy,' I said. 'Steve Attridge, a brilliant writer whose father was a blacksmith, is even now assembling a team of embittered dramatists who could visit Fowey, on the Cornish coast, and pass as natives.'

'Including Geoff Atkinson?' said Brown.

'Alas,' I said, 'Atkinson is out because he's in. Out as a writer, that is, because he's in as a character. He'll produce it for Kudos Productions, and play himself. Peter Cook, on the other hand, is in because he's out - in as a writer, since he's out as a character, on the grounds that he's too fat to play me but not fat enough to play Penny, my beloved's, Fat Man.'

'He must be disappointed,' said Brown.

'He certainly is,' I said. 'He had particularly wanted to play the scene eight years ago when the Fat Man took two hours climbing the stairs of the escort agency where, hoping to meet Patricia Guppy, he in fact met Penny, my beloved. So - are you in or out?'

Brown said he was in, with one proviso - and it was at this point that he came up with his variation on Judd's Paradox.

'Against Justin Judd,' he said, 'it has always been my policy to persuade my intellectual inferiors to work not with me but for me. Accordingly, and because I'm having trouble with my novel for Random House, I'd be obliged if you'd write it on my behalf. In return, I'll help you with El Independo.'

I agreed, but later, when I got home, I realised that once again I might have bitten off more than I could chew - a view swiftly reinforced when I received two rather grumpy phone calls: one from Alan Yentob and one from David Liddiment, the BBC's new head of light entertainment.

Yentob wanted to know why I'd abandoned the show he'd commissioned, Major Ron's Kama Britain ('The 'Kama Cornwall',' he said, 'would have made an excellent episode - sordid Celtic introspection and primitive social rituals involving fat women swapping their husbands after a barbecue') and Liddiment was angry that I'd advertised our enterprise in last week's column.

'I've been inundated,' he said, 'by photographs of ambitious actresses, and Penny, your beloved's, Fat Man has jumped the gun by giving an interview to the Cornish Guardian. For the photograph, they were obliged to hire a special wide-angle lens from a local branch of Dixons and they've sent the bill to me.'

Never mind. I've solved the problem of Brown's comic novel for Random House. My own novel, already published four times under different titles (twice by the same house) is due for another outing. I'll submit this to Random House and if they like it I'll say I wrote it and Brown will be back to square one. And if they don't like it Brown will be back to square one anyway.

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