Towards the end of his Diaries, Kenneth Tynan complains that the older he gets, the more estranged he feels from his glamorous persona. In a sense, this is a rift that still exists today. Tynan’s posthumous reputation grows ever more glorious with each passing year, yet if you bother to read anything he wrote — particularly the Diaries — he seems completely idiotic, like a parody of a dissipated champagne socialist created by Craig Brown.
There are constant reminders of just how ridiculous he was capable of being in Tynan, a one-man show performed with an air of nicotine-stained melancholy by Corin Redgrave. On the birth of his son, the great critic tells us that he’s decided to include the name ‘Blake’ on his birth certificate, a reference to some long-forgotten convict and author who was a left-wing cause célèbre at the time. In another passage, we find Tynan claiming it’s a ‘fact’ that no communist country has ever deliberately bombed a civilian target — proof, apparently, that China and the Soviet Union are morally superior to the United States. On one occasion — admittedly very rare — he even allows his political beliefs to interfere with his own sensual pleasure. ‘I’ve never derived any pleasure from spanking black girls,’ he confesses after an aborted attempt to do just that. ‘It conflicts with my belief in civil liberties.’
It’s tempting to condemn Tynan as an absurd figure, a man whose licentious behaviour was constantly at odds with his left-wing conscience, yet, as played by Redgrave, there’s something appealingly tragic about him. As fate inflicts one misfortune after another on him — emphysema, impotence, bankruptcy — he jokes that God is punishing him for his life of debauchery. But it’s precisely the absence of any enduring faith that makes his afflictions so hard to bear.