Jeffrey bernard

How Jeffrey Bernard led me to London’s rudest landlord

On a recent Sunday evening, the Shaftesbury Theatre in Soho was packed to the gills with a crowd celebrating a dramatic tribute to a landlord: the best kind of landlord, the landlord of a pub. And not just any old pub, but the pub he ruled with an iron fist for 63 years until his retirement in 2006. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Norman Balon, sole proprietor of the legendary Coach and Horses. ‘London’s rudest landlord’, as he was known; it said so on the matchboxes. On for one night only, Norman Balon – It’s All True was a play written by the person who took over the lease, Alastair Choat.

The dark world of Victorian horse racing

Two hours after showing her father, the Marquess of Anglesey, the wedding dress in which she was to marry the country squire Henry Chaplin, Lady Florence Paget took a carriage to Marshall & Snelgrove’s department store. Leaving by a side entrance, she was escorted to St George’s Church in Hanover Square where she married Harry Hastings, the fourth Marquis of Hastings. They were back at his Leicestershire estate of Donington Hall before her family knew a thing. It was the ultimate Victorian scandal: the stunningly beautiful Lady Florence was known as the Pocket Venus, Harry Hastings was a rakehell addicted to the cheap cheers of those for whom he bought

We were all unwell then

On the one hand, I am supremely qualified to review this book. In 1984, bored beyond endurance after graduating with one of those degrees that leaves you both over- and under-qualified for employment, I decided to take my dole money down to the Coach and Horses pub in Soho, where this magazine’s Jeffrey Bernard held court, and pay my respects to him, for I liked his prose style and his stories. I stayed there for three years or more, a postgraduate course in itself, only packing my bags at the end of 1987 when I met the woman who was to become my wife. On the other hand, I am

Remembering Jeffrey Bernard’s great wonder of the world: the rotting fruit and vegetables in Berwick Street Market

There’s no better way to view Soho than from Jeffrey Bernard’s former council flat overlooking Berwick Street Market. For many, Bernard is remembered as a notorious writer and alcoholic – a close friend to many of the more famous artists, actors and personalities who inhabited ‘The Crooked Mile’. To produce this small film, we initially wrote to the occupiers of Bernard’s former flat out of the blue asking them to allow the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) to host an event in their front room. I have Estrella Bravo and her husband to thank for replying and inviting me over. Having been given the green light to proceed, we then

Jonathan Meades on god, football and brutophilia – and why his memoir was 17 years late

This is a transcript of a talk, ‘Composing the Past’, given by Jonathan Meades at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh on 26 August 2015, about writing An Encyclopaedia of Myself, which won the Spears Memoir Prize and was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley award The most recent film I made was on the sculptural neo-expressionistic architecture of the late 50s, 60s and early 70s – known as brutalism after the French for raw concrete, beton brut or bru, depending on how costive with consonants the speaker is. This film has had bizarre and unintended consequences. Forty years ago two fine comic actors, both now dead, John Fortune and John Wells,

Summer listening

Just back from a few nights in Sweden to find the perfect programme on Radio 3. It was one of those interval shorts that are always such a nightly bonus during the Proms season. That 20-minute space between concert halves is the perfect length for listening. On Sunday night it was Kate Clanchy’s turn to fill in between Sibelius symphonies and what better topic than The Summer House (produced by Julian May), or rather the stuga, mokki, sommerhus or dacha beloved of Scandinavians and Russians, where Sibelius would retreat to write those symphonies redolent of dark woods and deep waters. Here the hassle and routine of city life are abandoned

Taki on Jeffrey Bernard – ‘Never a nice word about me’

Some years ago, Taki and Jeffrey Bernard each wrote the other’s obituary. When Jeffrey died on 4 September 1997, The Spectator published Taki’s version. Radio 4 are today broadcasting Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, and so it seemed a good time to revisit the piece:  In real life Jeffrey Bernard was much the same as he was in print. He was dyspeptic but almost always lightened the atmosphere with a flash of humour and the de rigueur four-letter word. He had a wintry smile and was a master of the unkind remark. People who are always trying to be funny rarely are. Jeff never gave the impression he was trying, and invariable always

Jeffrey Bernard and Jeremy Clarkson would have understood each other

A lot of people seem to have confused the fact that Jeremy Clarkson is right wing and amusing (which they believe is at odds with the culture of the BBC) with the fact that he’s shown himself to be a brute (which is why he’s been sacked). The investigation into his attack on Oisin Tymon is pretty unequivocal. It was unprovoked and lasted more than 30 seconds until someone else intervened, and there was a lot of nasty verbal abuse thrown in for good measure. Tymon went to hospital afterwards to get his injuries checked out. Rather magnificently, he didn’t offer any resistance to Clarkson’s assault. The Duke of Cambridge

The joys of unrealistic New Year’s resolutions

There’s something so depressing about the newspapers’ tips for sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions that to shield yourself from boredom and irritation, you may decide not to make any at all. But they can be rather romantic; the diplomat Harold Nicolson had a tender affection for resolutions, much preferring them to Christmas. How far more delightful, how far less cumbersome, is the search for New Year’s resolutions. No careful planning is required for this catalogue; the resolutions trip merrily along together, as gay as a group of children leaving school…One should realise that the ease with which they buzz and settle implies an equal capacity for being able, in

Notes from Damascus

As I looked out of the window of my hotel bedroom, studying the view of central Damascus, the mobile phone rang. Peter Walwyn was on the line. I have not seen Mr Walwyn, who was twice British champion racehorse trainer and trained Grundy to win the Derby in 1975, for several years. I reminded him of our lunch at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. He had sat down, ordered a vodka and tonic, and told me that the evening before he had placed flowers on Jeffrey Bernard’s grave. After Bernard died several Lambourn trainers, along with Peter O’Toole, held a ceremony at the top of the gallops. A simple granite stone memorial now marks

Archive: Jeffrey Bernard’s Christmas Low Life

In this festive Low Life column from the 19 December 1981 edition of The Spectator, Jeffrey Bernard talks us through some Christmases past. I’ve tried ignoring Christmas but the bastard won’t go away. It’s never been a good time of year for me what with being ignored by Father Christmas — yes, I’m going to have a right old moan today — and three years ago being left completely alone in a freezing cottage. Season of goodwill? You must be joking. But at least I’ve had an office party this year in Kentish Town. Last night I poured a vodka into my electric typewriter and it nearly blew up. There

From the Spectator’s archive: Peter O’Toole stars in ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’

Peter O’Toole has passed away today, aged 81. Amongst the many characters he played was the lead role in Keith Waterhouse’s  Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, based on the Spectator’s Low Life column. O’Toole was easily Jeffrey’s favourite of the actors to play him – Tom Conti, he thought, seemed to disapprove of all the drinking but O’Toole ‘made it his play’. Below is our review of his performance, by Christopher Edwards dated 20 October 1989. Readers of The Spectator will need no explanation about the contents of this production, based as it is upon the weekly column of our own Low Life correspondent. When I recently tried to arrange an interview with

From the archives: Jeffrey Bernard does Christmas

By way of a Christmas aperitif for CoffeeHousers, here’s Jeffrey Bernard enduring the festive season for his Low Life column in 1988: Eastern Promise, Jeffrey Bernard, The Spectator, 17 December 1988 Speaking as a man with little faith I find this whole business of Christmas one hell of an inconvenience. It must be even worse for a turkey. One of the things that annoys me is the fact that I can hardly find a table in any of the restaurants I use because of the number of wretches who only seem to eat and drink once a year. Where the hell are they in, say, August? I spent one Christmas