Telegraph Publishes Remembrance of Waugh

In today’s Sunday Telegraph, Nicholas Shakespeare writes a remembrance of Waugh. Shakespeare never apparently met Waugh personally but wrote and directed the three-part 198os BBC Arena documentary of Waugh. He is also editor of the Everyman edition of Waugh’s collected travel writing entitled Waugh Abroad. Shakespeare offers several recollections of his work on the Arena trilogy, most notably this one: 

For two years, I interviewed Waugh’s surviving friends and family. The budget was small – I was paid £500 per programme, with no surplus to commission actors. My producer and I hit on the penny-pinching device of asking the interviewees to read aloud passages from Waugh’s novels – books dedicated to them, in the cases of Harold Acton (Decline and Fall), Diana Mosley (Vile Bodies) and Dorothy Lygon (Black Mischief). Necessity turned out to be the mother of television gold.

As Harold Acton re-enacted the Bollinger Club smashing up Scone College chapel, he was performing as his own character – but also as Waugh, whose best man he had been. When Dorothy Lygon read about Basil Seal unsuspectingly eating his girlfriend in an aromatic stew, she was back at her family home of Madresfield, the moated manor-house overlooking the Malvern Hills where Waugh had written Black Mischief, and on which he based his most vulnerable and popular work, Brideshead Revisited.

He recalls several of the interviewees but the most memorable is Waugh’s friend, fellow writer and Roman Catholic Graham Greene who:

said there was something characteristic about his death. Waugh, a devout Catholic, expired on Easter Sunday 1966, on the lavatory, which reminded Greene of Apthorpe’s “Thunder-box” in Men at Arms, the antiquated field latrine in the shape of a plain square box which had exploded under him, just as the Catholic Church had detonated beneath Waugh in the form of the Second Vatican Council.

In Greene’s opinion, Waugh “needed to cling to something solid and strong and unchanging”. Catholicism was that raft, essentially unaltered for 2,000 years. The Vatican’s attempt to modernise Waugh’s creed sank him…I asked Greene how he had felt on that Easter Sunday in 1966. He said: “I felt as if my commanding officer had died.”

Shakespeare also reminisces about his visits to Madresfield Court, where his grandmother used to play bridge once a week for 50 years and sometimes took him along. After the Arena trilogy was broadcast, they found an old home movie showing Lord Beauchamp’s homecoming after his exile in the 1930s. Shakespeare  arranged to show the film and describes the reaction of Sibell Lygon:

With rapture, Sibell looked at herself in a blue dress, entering the maze. “Father planted it from a design in Boy’s Own,” she said. “In the First World War, we gave a lot of wounded soldiers a jolly afternoon out. We led them to the centre of the maze and then ran away.” She tried not to smile. “It was awful.”

His other grandmother married Dudley Carew, Waugh’s school friend from Lancing. She showed him Carew’s diary in which Waugh had written annotations. Among them Waugh had:

pencilled down his rules for good writing:

“1. Avoid long conversations on general subjects. This is a mistake many people make. General conversations may only be allowed when they show character.

2. Don’t be slack about grammar and do quote accurately if you must quote.

3. For God’s sake don’t hold up the Wandering Jew as a literary or aesthetic show.

4. Don’t put down thoughts at such length, directly suggest – be subtle. Leave something to us readers.

5. Keep cutting out. Motto for artists of all sorts. Prune unessentials.”

The Telegraph has done itself proud with this articleThe online version is beautifully illustrated and well worth reading.

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