One Humorist Reviews Another

Craig Brown writing in this week’s Mail on Sunday offers an article that is more in praise of Auberon Waugh as a humorist than it is of the recent collection of his writings. Brown begins with his assessment of Auberon’s life and career:

Newspaper humorists who once made their readers howl with laughter now seem dreadfully plodding and laboured. It’s not their fault: time moves on, and topical humour becomes less topical, and less humorous.[…] But once or twice in a generation comes a humorist blessed with the enviable capacity to remain funny, even though his ostensible targets have faded with time. Auberon Waugh, who died in 2001, was, to my mind, a comic genius. Every week or two, I still dip into books of his Private Eye diaries (1972-1985), and they still make me laugh, despite the fact that many of the victims of his jokes – Princess Margaret, Edward Heath, Jeremy Thorpe – are now no more than footnotes from history

Waugh is often categorised as a right-wing humorist, but, as Neil Clark points out in the sharpest essay in this book, he might just as easily be placed on the left. His vituperation acknowledged no boundaries. […]  His view of current affairs was wholly off-beat but guided by a peculiar, topsy-turvy logic. How I wish he were still with us, so that we could read his views on President Trump and Brexit! Something of a prophet, he would, I imagine, be fascinated to learn that Trump’s food of choice is the hamburger. Back in 1993, he noted that, ‘the hamburger, wherever it is found, is the emblem of American cultural colonialism. It is more than a food preference: it is an existential choice, a philosophical statement, a way of life… The fight against hamburgers is a small part of a much greater struggle to prevent Britain becoming culturally, as well as economically, dependent on the United States.’ At the same time – and contrary to those who liked to portray him as a nationalist blimp – he was a dedicated European. ‘For a very long time it has seemed to me that our only possible refuge from the United States is in a more or less united Europe… ‘

Brown goes on to express his disappointment that the present collection in A Scribbler in Soho contains an unrepresentative selection of Auberon’s work. It relies too heavily on his editorials in the Literary Review and contains too little of his best work from the diaries, Daily Telegraph columns and book reviews. He also finds Naim Attallah’s narratives tedious and repetitious and concludes with this:

And why, if Attallah wrote this commentary, as he claims to have done, does he constantly refer to himself in the third person, eg, ‘Certainly Naim felt that a new epoch began the day Bron came into his life’? As it happens, I was also surprised to find my own name popping up on page 29, as someone who ‘never missed the chance to lambast any of Naim’s activities’. This is overstating it: in 40 years of journalism I doubt I have written about him more than four or five times. Or six, including this one.

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