As Cole Porter might have said, only second-rate people go on and on about their inner lives. Self-analysis, according to Cole, is the twin of self-promotion. Yet in this 10,000th issue of the world’s oldest and best weekly, and in my 43rd year of writing High Life, I have to admit to a bit of both of the above. So before any of you retreat into laptops and mobiles, some nostalgia is called for, starting in the spring of 1977.
Many of the writers back then sent in their longhand-written copy via messenger, paid for by The Spectator. I used to type mine and slip it under the door at Doughty Street before heading for Berkeley Square and Aspinall’s. My first editor, Alexander Chancellor, had assigned me the column on the advice of Simon Courtauld, the deputy editor and a social friend of mine. This was after an essay I had written on how to recognise an Englishman abroad: he carried a flashlight and inspected his bill in dark French nightclubs, infuriating the waiters.
The first thing I noticed at The Spectator was that — unlike in Athens and New York — contributors did not measure their worth and self-esteem according to how friendly they were with the owner and editor. Irreverence reigned supreme. People also spent more time in the pub across the street than they did hunched over their desks. As Clay Felker, the famous American editor, said to me when he was over on a visit: ‘How in hell do they come up with it week after week? They’re always in the pub or having lunch upstairs.’
The great enemy of all philosophical thought is said to be certainty. We humans equip ourselves with symbols that help us to make sense of our existence.