Weekend Roundup: Somerset in the News

Most of our Waugh news in this week’s roundup come from or relates to the county of Somerset:

An Australian radio program on the ABC network announces the upcoming TV series on the career of politician Jeremy Thorpe. This is based on the book A Very English Scandal by John Preston who is interviewed by ABC. He explains how Thorpe’s career was more or less ended by a 1970s scandal, the flames of which had been fanned by Auberon Waugh. Thorpe, who represented a North Devon constituency, had hired a shambolic hitman to kill a former homosexual lover (Norman Scott) who was blackmailing Thorpe  (homosexuality at the time being illegal). The plot failed when the hitman misfired and killed Scott’s dog Rinka and then scarpered. The dog’s suspicious death was reported by an “obscure family-owned Somerset newspaper with about 5,000 subscribers” one of whom was Auberon Waugh who lived at Combe Florey and wrote for Private Eye. He saw the story and smelled a bigger one. It began with an entry in his Private Eye Diary for 15 December 1975:

West Somerset is buzzing with rumours of a most unsavoury description following reports in the West Somerset Free Press about an incident which occurred recently on Exmoor. Mr Norman Scott…who claims to be a good friend of Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal statesman, was found by an AA patrolman weeping beside the body of Rinka, his Great Dane bitch, which had been shot in the head.

Auberon began pursuing Thorpe in his Eye column and even went so far as to run against him on the ticket of the Dog Lovers’ Party. Given his importance to the story, Auberon will surely be portrayed in the TV series to be broadcast later this year on BBC. The role of Thorpe will be played by Hugh Grant and that of Norman Scott by Ben Whishaw (who played Sebastian Flyte in the 2008 Miramax film of Brideshead Revisited.) The ABC report does not say who would play the part of Auberon Waugh nor does the cast list on IMDB mention anyone assigned to that role. Maybe we will have to be satisfied with a mention.

Another politician with a Somerset connection is also in the news. This is Jacob Rees-Mogg a Euro-skeptic representing a Somerset constituency who is receiving a lot of attention as a potential minister or even Prime Minister in a Conservative Party Shake-Up over Brexit. Writing in the weekly paper The New European, Michael White doesn’t think so. He dismisses Rees-Mogg as a “faux aristo with plenty of principles and views–but no policies” and “a barmaid’s idea of a gentleman,” citing an Old Etonian who explains:

“True blue bloods were always rather lovable yobs, like mongrels…Would-be grandees accumulated behavioural traits they had read about in PG Wodehouse. Jacob doesn’t get noblesse oblige, an ethical system destroyed by Thatcher. His clothes are issued by a theatrical costumer, his children’s names a pale imitation of Evelyn Waugh.”

According to Wikipedia, the youngest Rees-Mogg was born last summer and is named Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher Rees-Mogg. Each of other five children have either 5 or 6 names to their credit (counting Rees-Mogg as two). The Waughs’ youngest child (their seventh) was named Michael Septimus.

Meanwhile, the Somerset Live news service has reported that the owner of the Farmers Arms public house in Combe Florey (site of Evelyn Waugh’s final residence and gravesite) has received planning permission to rebuild a new pub on the site of the one that burned down last year. See previous post. The new structure will have enhanced restaurant and bar facilities and improved access for disabled patrons but will otherwise replicate the ambience and exterior of its former incarnation. Presumably this means that it will have a thatched roof.

Finally, blogger Patrick Kurp on his weblog Ancedotal Evidence has posted this about Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox, who lived his final years at the other end of Someret in Mells where he is buried in the churchyard:

In 2009 I read Monsignor Ronald Knox (1959), Evelyn Waugh’s biography of his friend … Waugh quotes a 1901 letter Knox writes to his sister Ethel:

“I am dying to know how your photograph of me gracefully propped like a belated noctivagous reveller against the corrugated lithological specimen in the garden of our delightful country residence so exquisitely named in the sonorous nomenclature of our somewhat verbose Cymric neighbours Glan Gwynnant, has come out in printing.”

Knox was thirteen when he wrote this, and I had to look up “noctivagous.” Waugh tells us Knox’s letters from Eton were “often humorous in intent, alternating a parody of nursery speech and an extravagant pedantry.” While still a boy, his language could be downright Firbankian. That’s why I copied the sentence into a commonplace book.

Patrick recalled the word after finding a reference to an opossum species of that name. This research was inspired when his dog brought home several opossums of a different species.

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