Waugh’s last interviewer dies at 90

Novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard died on January 2 in Suffolk. She was the last person to conduct a broadcast interview of Evelyn Waugh. This was for the BBC Monitor documentary series and was transmitted in February 1964. According to her memoirs, Waugh was willing to do a second TV interview after having appeared on BBC’s Face-to-Face series in June 196o. This time round, however, he wanted to write the questions himself and wished the interviewer to be either his friend Christopher Sykes or a woman who was familiar with his books. In the end, Howard got the nod (Slipstream: A Memoir, 351-52). A transcript of the interview is available on David Cliffe’s Evelyn Waugh website.

Howard says that there were two afternoon filming sessions in the BBC’s London studios. This was necessary, she explains, to produce enough material for a one-hour broadcast, although the final result, as it survives in the BBC archives, is approximately 20 minutes, probably a segment of a longer program. Prior to the recording sessions, Howard met for lunch with Waugh and the director, Christopher Burstall, to whom Waugh explained that “one used one’s knives and forks beginning from the outside.” She asked some of the questions from Waugh’s list, which she considered very “run-of-the-mill,” but managed to slip in a few of her own. During the filming, “Waugh was still playing games. During each interval when they reloaded the camera he asked things like, ‘When is Miss Howard going to take off all her clothes?'” She was also asked to amuse Waugh during the intervals and, when she explained her lack of a formal education, he “seemed to enjoy [it], or at least he remained benign throughout.” When she asked whether he preferred to be anxious or bored, he replied “Oh, bored every time is the answer.”

The Monitor interview is much less lively that the one on Face-To-Face in which Waugh was forced to ad lib and came off brilliantly. Waugh also appears to have aged considerably in the few years between the interviews. He referred to his 1964 performance as “a dreary exhibition I made of myself on the television.” (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, 618). At least one clip from the Monitor interview is available on YouTube, but the entire broadcast has yet to be released by the BBC.

Howard later became the second wife of novelist Kingsley Amis and step-mother of Martin Amis, whose obituary for EJH kindly credits her with having ensured that he received a proper education. Evelyn Waugh was among the authors on her suggested reading list. Howard is best remembered for her novel sequence The Cazalet Chronicles, the final volume of which, All Change, was published just a few weeks before she died.

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