Alexei Sayle Podcast: “Outsider (An Evelyn Waugh Special)”

The 31st installment of the comedian Alexei Sayle’s podcast series that was entitled Outsider (An Evelyn Waugh Special) was posted earlier today on the internet. Here’s the link. The subject and participants were described in the written announcement on the website: “Evelyn Waugh experts Barbara Cooke and Paula Byrne join the podcast to talk all things Waugh. The life and writings of Alexei’s favourite author are explored and picked apart in this Evelyn Waugh special.” The interviewees are both well known in the Waugh studies community. They have both made presentations at Waugh Conferences and have written books and articles on the subject of Waugh’s life and works.

Their participation in the podcast was suggested to Sayle by Penguin Books. This was based, in turn, upon the two scholars’ recent introductions written for a new edition of Waugh’s books being published by Penguin. Byrne prepared the introduction for Brideshead Revisited and Cooke for Decline and Fall. More on this below.

Sayle began the podcast by proposing that they discuss Waugh’s life and work from the beginning. Cooke and Byrne then offered information about his childhood and Oxford years but they soon became sidetracked to his religious conversion. Sayle wanted to discuss what he deemed Waugh “sucking up” to aristocrats at Oxford and later but the Waugh scholars were having none of that. When Sayle noted that Waugh spent little time with coal miners, Byrne and Cooke pointed that he also had difficulties getting along with upper class friends and was, if anything, an equal opportunity snob.

Attempts were made to discuss individual books. For example, Sayle noted that Put Out More Flags raised an interesting subject of an incestuous relationship between Basil Seal and one of the characters but the subject soon broadened to encompass Waugh’s treatment of homosexual characters in several books.

Sayle also introduced the theme of the post-WWI choice between Communism and Catholicism that confronted writers of Waugh’s generation. But although Sayle is well known as an outspoken leftist, he was unable to steer the subject into politics as the scholars raked over other religious/philosophical interests of Waugh.

This lead Sayle into a discussion of Sword of Honour which he professes to be his favorite among Waugh’s novels. This topic took up much of the remainder of the 75 minute interview, as the three discussed several aspects of that work. As this drew to a close, a question was raised by another voice, probably that of the podcast’s producer, who was just beginning to read Waugh and was in the middle of the new Penguin edition of Decline and Fall. The interview closed with a discussion of Captain Grimes and Waugh’s attitude toward aesthetes at Oxford.

Sayle was disappointed that, even though the discussion was animated and wide ranging, there were several books they failed to cover such as Black Mischief, not to mention Scoop, Pinfold, Handful, Helena that were barely alluded to,  as well as travel books, biographies, etc. Sayle hoped that this neglect could be the basis for the convening of another session in the near future.

The new Penguin editions that were the inspiration for Sayle’s podcast were published in October without much fanfare (in the US, at least, where they are not for sale). They are hardback editions in the Penguin Classics imprint. Brideshead is selling on for £16.99 and Decline and Fall for £13.33. Other titles issued in this new format also have written introductions: Handful of Dust (Philip Eade), Scoop (Alexander Waugh), Sword of Honour (Martin Stannard) and Vile Bodies (Simon James). Penguin has posted the introductions to each of these novels on its website at this link. This will bring up the page for Decline and Fall and the introduction can be found under “LOOK INSIDE”. You will need to scroll down. If you return to the D&F page and go to the bottom, the other 5 novels will appear and their introductions can each be similarly linked .

UPDATE (3 December 2022): A link to Penguin Books’ website was added.

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