Writing a funny article is not all that difficult. Writing two is more than twice as hard, and to keep them coming week after week, without the standard flagging, is one of the toughest tricks to pull in journalism. Alan Coren is among a handful of writers who know how to do it. His sharply observed wit has delighted readers, listeners and viewers for 35 years - and he has been public-spirited enough to pass on the knack to his children.
For a large portion of his career he was associated with Punch, the venerable humour magazine. He began writing for it in 1962 when, aged 24, he was in the United States on a Harkness Fellowship, studying American literature.
Returning to Britain in 1963, he married Anne Kasriel, now a consultant at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. The same year he joined the staff of Punch, becoming literary editor, then deputy editor, and editor in 1978. He began to establish a reputation as a TV critic and humorous columnist on The Times and the Daily Mail. The funny columns began to be recycled into funny books, and he wrote the "Arthur" series of books for children.
Quitting Punch, he briefly became editor of The Listener, the BBC's cultural magazine. Already dying on its feet through lack of investment, it folded soon after he was replaced in 1989. From that moment, he decided to give up going to the office. "When I got to 50 I thought I'd had enough of corporate life," he explains. So he developed his career as a freelance columnist and broadcaster.
His weekly Times column, chronicling the oddities of life in the north London district of Cricklewood, began in 1988 and is still running. He is a stalwart on Radio 4's The News Quiz, appears every weekday afternoon on Call My Bluff on BBC1, and writes for several magazines.
"Broadcasting is a hobby, not my first area of expertise," he says. "Writing is what I do best. Then you paste them all together and you generate books." One such, The Alan Coren Omnibus, appeared in the spring; another, A Bit on the Side, is due in the autumn.
His son, Giles, was born in 1969. After gaining a first-class honours degree at Oxford, he joined the literary department of The Daily Telegraph and then became a feature writer on The Times, as well as writing a satirical column about shopping in its Saturday magazine. Eventually he found that the disciplines of a newspaper office were not especially to his taste, and left The Times last year after a spectacular falling-out with an assistant editor that is still the talk of the Wapping wine bars. Now he writes for The Telegraph again and has collaborated on a book with James Dyson, the visionary inventor. Called Against the Odds, it will be published this month.
Victoria Coren was born in 1972. By the time she was 14, she was writing a column for The Telegraph on ... what it was like to be 14. Two years later she produced a precocious book called Love 16 (it should have been Love 15, a neater title, but the publisher failed to bring the book out before her birthday).
By their very nature teenage columns cannot be sustained indefinitely, and Victoria did well to make hers last seven years, especially since she too was busy getting a First at Oxford. Since then she has contributed to several other national papers and is writing a novel.
Is Alan surprised - flattered, even - that his children have chosen to follow his trade? "I'm delighted that they're successful because they're very good. They're smart and charming. They both wrote well from an early age, I suppose because they grew up in a house where a lot of writing was going on - that, coupled with the genes.
"Had they gone into journalism and not been any good at it, that would have been a shame. They haven't realised their potential yet, but they're on their way to realising it and I'm very pleased for them." Neither is married, so no third-generation wits are yet in the production line.
When Alan started in journalism his father told him he was mad, because there were few outlets and not much money in it. "He was right in those days, but nowadays it's a big industry and if anybody wants to go into the media and makes a fist of it, they can make good money."
Speaking of which, does either of the children yet earn more than be does? Silly question. "Nobody earns more than I do"
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