Early November Roundup

–The Daily Mail reprints extracts from the gossipy personal diaries of journalist and biographer Kenneth Rose. These are from the second volume entitled Who Wins, Who Loses? covering the period 1979-2014:

March 29, 1982. Geoffrey Warnock [Oxford vice-chancellor] tells me that so loathed was [novelist] Evelyn Waugh at Hertford that when he died, the college passed a resolution that it should not be represented at his funeral.

Warnock was a scholarship student at New College from c. 1945-49, well after Waugh’s Oxford days. He was Principal of Hertford College in the period 1971-1988 but was a tutor at Magdalen College at the time Waugh died in 1966.  This quote suggests that Warnock somehow influenced a decision at Hertford at a time he was not present there. It seems more likely that he became aware of the incident (if indeed his memory is accurate) after the fact. Waugh’s descriptions of his visits to Hertford College after the war indicate that he and the college were on relatively amicable terms by that time. In some other literary gossip, Rose mentions two of Waugh’s friends:

June 17, 1980. Story about Maurice Bowra [former vice-chancellor of Oxford University]. At a wedding, when asked if he was ‘bride’ or ‘bridegroom’, he replied: ‘I don’t know. I have slept with both.’

September 22, 1983Lunch at the Beefsteak [London men-only club]. Bevis Hillier [art historian and author], who is writing [former poet laureate] John Betjeman’s life, tells me that not even in his cups will John Sparrow [Warden of All Souls, Oxford] part with his letters from Betjeman; probably because they shared a salacious interest in little boys’ muddy football shorts.

–A recent issue of the Washington Post reviews a book entitled Hate Inc. by journalist Matt Taibbi. (Yes, the Post still reviews books even though it eliminated its Sunday book magazine insert several years ago.) The review opens with this reference to Waugh’s Scoop:

There’s a scene in Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop,” the irreverent 1938 sendup subtitled “A Novel About Journalists,” where hapless protagonist William Boot wonders why so many reporters file divergent accounts of the same events.

“But isn’t it very confusing if we all send different news,” he asks a veteran correspondent.

“It gives them a choice,” the colleague says of British editors. “They all have different policies so of course they have to give different news.”

I was reminded of “give different news” while reading Matt Taibbi’s “Hate Inc.,” which is also a book about journalists but with a much darker subtitle: “Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another.” Taibbi, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, writes that “Scoop” is one of a handful of books he carries whenever he travels, and traces of its comic cynicism animate his prose. But where Waugh brilliantly satirized, Taibbi aims a cannon, blasting an American media industry he accuses of taking sides and manipulating the audience for profit — “different news” elevated to a business model.

–The quarterly literary journal Raritan, published by Rutgers University, has announced that its next issue will contain an article on Evelyn Waugh. This is written by Andrew Bacevich, retired professor of history at Boston University and, before that, retired officer from the US Army. His Wikipedia entry shows no previous literary writing but a good many books and articles devoted to US foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Middle East. He also describes himself as a “Catholic conservative” so that may be a clue.

The Times newspaper has a story in which John O’Connell takes another look at the book-reading habits of the late singer-songwriter David Bowie. He reports how Bowie’s penchant for book reading surfaced during a US film shoot in the 1970s:

He had, rather ambitiously, promised not to use drugs for the duration of the shoot, so when he wasn’t needed he would take himself off to his trailer and indulge in an altogether less harmful pastime: reading books. Luckily, he had plenty to choose from. As a location report explained: “Bowie hates aircraft so he mostly travels across the States by train, carrying his mobile bibliothèque in special trunks, which open out with all his books neatly displayed on shelves.” This portable library stored 1,500 titles. 

Fast-forward to March 2013. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibition “David Bowie Is” has opened in London to rave reviews. To coincide with its subsequent launch in Ontario, the V&A issued a list of the 100 books Bowie considered the most important and influential – not his “favourite books” as such – out of the thousands he had read during his life. The mobile-library story shows how Bowie’s reading had calcified into a compulsion by the time he was world famous. He went about it the way he went about everything, with a kind of manic fervour.

As has been previously reported on this site, one of the books on Bowie’s top 100 list was Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. The Times’s article includes Bowie’s Top 100 list, with specific comments on some of the choices but not, alas, for Vile Bodies. They might have mentioned that Waugh’s book also influenced some of the songs on Bowie’s album Alladin Sane

The Daily Drone, a weblog for former Daily Express reporters and other admirers of that journal in its more successful days has posted this brief notice:

EXPRESSMAN Geoffrey Mather, writing on his website about Brideshead Revisited, recalled an amusing anecdote about the book’s author Evelyn Waugh.

Quoting Waugh’s biographer Philip Eade he wrote: “Waugh spent several weeks ‘working’ at the Daily Express. Having been fired in 1927 he gave advice to budding reporters.

“When assigned a story, ‘the correct procedure is to jump to your feet, seize your hat and umbrella, and dart out of the office with every appearance of haste to the nearest cinema’.

“At the cinema the probationer was advised to sit and smoke a pipe and imagine what any relevant witnesses might say.”

We on the Drone reckon this was an excellent policy which was followed 50 years later by eager Expressmen, although at that time pubs were more de rigueur than cinemas.

And the moral? Never take work too seriously.

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