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The Weybridge Chronicles, or, Who sat next to Simon
on 27 September 2011
More from the Punch/News Quiz school of literature (see my review of The Essential Alan Coren, who contributes a good though hoary Jewish joke to the present volume, p56). Not so much a memoir, more a concatenation of anecdotes, this is rather tentative getting off the ground - for someone who makes a living from his pen, not to mention a scion of the House of Hoggart*, it's limp, lazy, gutless stuff, more 'Weybridge' than he realises**; it gets into its stride in the Manchester (Guardian) years (how quaint this will all soon seem, when 'newspaper' means your local freesheet) and unlike Coren none of it's made up - not even the jokes. On which two stances are permissable - either that they're not in their first youth, or that you can't beat the old ones. The Roses (Harry and Henry) stir one's interest; the Face the Press anecdote from the following chapter clinches it; the bit on Gerry Fitt's ennoblement in the Irish-themed chapter maintains that level. From then on, though, it just gets scrappier and scrappier. The political chapters (Hoggart's speciality!) are increasingly inconsequential, when not apocryphal. The American chapter's a crashing disappointment
Certain dinner guests would once be described as 'amusing', which meant that two hours of them was about as much as one could stand. Hoggart escapes the charge only because it is not him doing the amusing. David Benedictus did the whole name-dropping shtick with more languid aplomb in his aptly titled Dropping Names; in Hoggart's case, as with Coren, it's the modesty we prize, but his Zelig-like presence eventually palls. We never even learn what he studied at Cambridge! Tellingly, the first authorial mot, coyly rearing its head on p99, is 'we all prefer to deprecate ourselves rather than have others do it for us'. If Nicolas Parsons floats your boat, go for it
* one of the (very) few facts of interest is that Hoggart senior's magnum opus was originally to have been called The ABuses of Literature
** but tonsorial sideboards are only 'sideburns' colloquially, Hoggart, and in Britain we 'raise' livestock; children we bring up. Yet he calls a tanktop a 'sleeveless pullover'. He is younger than me! Or is this my inner Weybridge man speaking? By the way, that Joyce Grenfell - oo, she were a caution!