I went last night to a drinks party to celebrate the publication of a book of collected journalism by my friend Auberon Waugh, who died almost exactly a year ago. The book, entitled Closing the Circle, consists of pieces he wrote for the Daily Telegraph during the last 10 years of his life after he ousted the journalist Christopher Booker from the “Way of the World” column in one of the boldest and most ruthless campaigns of his professional life. Bron, as he was universally known, had always hoped one day to inherit the “Way of the World” from its creator, Michael Wharton, who was his journalistic hero. So his outrage knew no bounds when his old enemy Booker, a former colleague at Private Eye, slipped into the slot before him and, in his words, started “grimacing and gibbering on the sacred ground”. After bombarding Max Hastings, then the editor of the Daily Telegraph, with preposterous letters calling for Booker’s dismissal, he surprisingly won the day and found himself in 1990 with his ambition achieved. From then until almost the time of his death, he used the Daily Telegraph as his principal vehicle for practising his “vituperative arts”, as he liked to call them.
The party, which was a jovial occasion that included very funny readings from the book, was held in a London gentleman’s club. Nothing wrong with that, except that I happen to belong to the club and one has to be very careful when writing about clubs of which one is a member. Most of them have very strict rules about members not revealing what is said or done inside them or, indeed, not saying anything that could bring them into disrepute. The Groucho Club, to which I also belong, is considered a Bohemian, easy-going sort of place, but Toby Young was recently expelled for writing in his book, How to LoseFriends and Alienate People, about a cocaine-snorting incident on the premises. And I was almost, but not quite, expelled from the Garrick Club a few years ago when I complained in print about how it planned to spend a multi-million-pound windfall from the Walt Disney Co. on charity rather than distribute it among its members. We would each have stood to get about £40,000 ($56,000) if the club hadn’t been feeling so high-minded. Disney had offered £200 million ($283 million) for the rights to Winnie the Pooh, a quarter of which had been bequeathed to the Garrick by Pooh’s creator, A.A. Milne. Bron once wrote of A.A. Milne that his “loathsome exploitation of his son, Christopher Robin, would surely land him in prison nowadays”. Milne did not entirely neglect Christopher Robin in his will, but he left most of his literary rights to institutions like the Garrick, which showed how much he thought of the boy (now, alas, also dead).
So to avoid any threat of expulsion from my third club—the one at which the party for Bron’s book was held—I will not give it is real name but will call it the Lamb Chop Club instead. I seldom go to any of these clubs, as it so happens. But I want to stay a member of them as insurance against boredom in old age, when I can see myself toddling along to one of them at lunchtime so as to try to feel I am still in the swim. The Lamb Chop Club rules allow for expulsion of a member if he does anything injurious to its reputation or interests, but my complaint here is that it doesn’t seem to worry about my reputation to the same extent. Each year, around November, it writes to all members urging them to contribute generously to a staff Christmas fund for the benefit of its low-paid servants. Normally, I send a modest cheque, but this year I forgot. I am sorry about this, but all the same I did not expect to be named and shamed in public. On the club notice board, prominently displayed for all to see at the private party held there for Bron’s book, was a list of all the club’s members and beside each one the amount he had donated to the Christmas fund. The sums ranged from a miserly £15 ($21) to an ostentatious £250 ($353), but against my name there was a blank. I wasn’t the only one. A few other members hadn’t made any donation either. But the guests at the party, very few of whom were members of the Lamb Chop Club, spent much of their time in front of the notice board, making derisive comments about the extravagance or meanness of those listed there.
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has this week upheld a complaint by Tony and Cherie Blair against the Daily Telegraph.It agreed with them that the paper had breached its Code of Conduct by revealing in a diary paragraph that their son Euan, now at school, had applied for a university place at Trinity College, Oxford. The Telegraph said it had learned of Euan’s application from a list of applicants posted for all to see in the college porter’s lodge. But the PCC decided that the paper had “unnecessarily intruded” into the boy’s privacy. I ask myself whether it is as damaging to reveal that a young person aspires to have a good university education as it is to hold up an old one to ridicule for his parsimony.