The death of Auberon Waugh in January 2001 marks the end of an era. Auberon and his father Evelyn were masters of the English language. Together they perfected the use of ironic wit.
"Will this Do?" is much more than an autobiography. It is an encapsulation of an era and a culture. His work covers that incredible period of British history (1960 - 1980) where the "old order" Establishment, with its upper class "born to rule" social structures were overthrown.
In that period political satire became part of popular culture. Witness the rise of "smart" young men like David Frost and the circle of comedians that arose from the Cambridge Footlights. The weekly newspaper "Private Eye" was one of the most influential outlets for Auberon Waugh where he wrote a column for many years. The "Eye" did more for exposing political and social scandal In Britain than any other forum.
Waugh's membership of both the "upper" class and influential, activist intellectual circles put he him in a unique position to observe and comment on the quirks and absurdities of his Britain.
Occasionally he was overtly a political activist. The most prominent example was his very public support of the Biafran cause in the Nigerian Civil War in the early 1970s. This put him at loggerheads with the British government.
In Waugh's biography his ironic tone is pervasive. Even those readers who know his work well, will at times struggle to figure out whether he is joking, serious or merely "going over the top".
Auberon's humour didn't travel too well across the Atlantic. He found American's far "too earnest", who take his words too literally. However the gulf in styles of humour between the Anglo and the American world must have been closed to some degree thanks to Waugh's writing.
Waugh's influence on the world of wine was huge. For many years he wrote a wine column in the English "Spectator". In the early 1980's he "discovered" New World (Australian and Californian) wine. Although the Spectator at that time had a subscription base of only 14,000, it was hugely influential. The cellars of the House of Lords were probably restocked on the advice of Waugh. When you look at the exponential growth of New World wine exports since that time we may have a perfect example of viral marketing, thanks to one man's words in an obscure journal.
Many people who are not familiar with the style and wit of Waugh may find his writing pompous and haughty. It is well worth persisting though. He was probably the first writer to do a demolition job on Political Correctness. His favourite targets were the self-righteous. If they happened to be humourless as well (a strong correlation?) they would get both barrels from Waugh.
The influence of both Evelyn and Auberon Waugh will be felt for many years. Any body who loves the English language should read Auberon's autobiography. His work is the ideal example of that old aphorism " The Pen is Mightier than the Sword".