I well remember the January of 2001 when youth was mine and Al Qa’eda was considered a mere nuisance. A political group I belonged to at Oxford invited the scabrous reactionary writer to talk to us. However, Auberon Waugh failed to appear. His sudden death seemed an acceptable excuse.
Waspish, contrarian and mean spirited but never banal: Auberon was one of a kind. He was the son of the celebrated novelist Evelyn Waugh. Auberon came from a long line of writers and eccentrics. His forekind would be traced to 17th century North Britain. Waugh actually has a meaning: it means something like valiant. Thence they transmigrated to northern England wherein their surname was pronounced ‘woof.’ The Waugh’s were a most gifted race. They produced physicians, palmary writers and even a religious maniac who argued that the evidence for evolution was planted by Beelzebub to fool those of little faith.
Auberon was born in 1939 into a family of considerable means. His family were plain English (but for distant Scots ancestry) yet had crossed the Tiber. Auberon was raised in the Catholic faith. Though an inveterate sinner he remained a devoted child of the Universal Church all his days.
By the time Auberon came into this world his pater was renowned for writing some of the defining novels of the Jazz Age and of the 1930s. Evelyn’s proto-fascist leanings never left him. It was Evelyn’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited which remains the peerless novel of the Oxford undergraduate experience. 60 years after its publication my friends lived in conscious imitation of its protagonists.
Auberon had a lot to live up to. He was sent to Downside which is a school in Somerset run by monks. Despite his fervent faith he was a nonconformist and pleasingly cynical. An able pupil but a poor sportsman his time there was not entirely happy.
National Service beckoned. Somehow, he was commissioned as a cavalry officer. Auberon was dispatched to Cyprus. There he was shot by a machinegun operated by himself! He was near death but his family did not bother to visit him. Miraculously he pulled through and made a full recovery. However, he was invalided out of the army. Thereafter he was more gormful around firearms.
Upon leaving school Auberon was accepted at Christ Church, Oxford. Such places were not difficult to get into back then for those who were cut from the right cloth. Christ Church was and is the noblest Oxford college. To his father’s chagrin, Auberon was reading English. Evelyn told his son scornfully that English is a girl’s subject. The course was not entirely to Auberon’s taste since it focused overmuch on bardolatry.
After a year Auberon decided to go down. Leaving without a degree was not uncommon in the 1950s. Any experience of university education put him in the top 2% of the populace. He had the innate intelligence and the contacts to secure lucrative work. He was couth but had a low boredom threshold.
Auberon soon found himself working as a scathing and scabrous scribbler. It was an occupation that he never quit. His novels and opinion pieces were ribald and droll.
As a journalist he was ept and percipient and had a nose for a story. His acerbic style won him lifelong fans as well as eternal enmity. The asperity provoked meant that many publications would not touch him. He never learnt to be reckful. It was his closely observed opinion pieces that made his name. His exposulations with various famous figures were never bland.
Auberon wed. He was known for his carnality. He was corpulent and happily ate gluttonously. Lucullan feasts were washed down with Fleet Street quantities of hard liquor.
Many found Auberon’s company convivial. He was as enthralling a raconteur in person as he was droll and vivid on the page. The confelicity that he induced in his auditors was legendary.
Being an out and out reactionary Auberon looked to the future with anticippointment. Like his progenitor he saw that all he cherished being eroded. Auberon was a conservative in the small C and not the capital C sense. As he acidly wrote, ‘the trouble with the Tory Party is that it has not turned the clock back one minute.’ For Auberon the entire 20th century was one gigantic mistake.
Auberon wed and has issue. Though he believed in family values he composed no prothalamion.
A bugbear of Auberon as the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. John Jeremy Thorpe, the MP for Devon North was a homosexualist at a time when such conduct was looked upon unkindly.
Thorpe did not advertise what many then regarded as a proclivity for perverse proctological predilections. J J Thorpe was unsurprisingly antsy about the possibility of these allegations becoming public. This being an epoch when homosexual acts were unlawful.
Thorpe has a liaison with a mentally ill stable boy named Norman Josiffe. Josiffe later changed his surname to Scott. The long and the short of it is that Thorpe tired of Norman Josiffe and ended the relationship. However, Josiffe pursued the Liberal leader for years asking for favours and pecuniary assistance. Thorpe had penned some indiscrete epistles to his catamite. Thorpe was perturbed lest Josiffe show these incriminating billets doux to officers of the law.
Thorpe eventually lost patience with Josiffe. The Liberal MP was at the end of his tether. He had been badgered by Josiffe for 10 years who was starting to threaten blackmail. Thorpe hired a hitman to kill Josiffe. The hit was subcontracted out. Josiffe was befriended and offered a lift in a car. Josiffe took his Great Dane (who was named Rinka) with him. The driver stopped the car one rainy winter’s night in the West Country and told Josiffe to get out of the vehicle. Josiffe and his cur existed the automobile. At which point the gunman shot dead Rinka and took aim at Josiffe saying ‘’you’re next’’. The gun jammed and Josiffe ran off shrieking into the storm-tossed night.
Thorpe found himself charged with conspiracy to murder. Many expressed the deepest empathy for J J Thorpe. He had friends in high places. Thorpe had been educated at Eton, Oxford and the Bar. His goodwife, the Countess of Harewood, had formerly been married to the Queen’s cousin. Thorpe’s impeccable establishment credentials may have been an advantage when he was charged with conspiracy to murder.
Auberon was having none of this sympathy for Thorpe whom he had always regarded as an unbearable show-off and sordid fraud. Despite the dreadful publicity for the Liberals arising from the Thorpe imbroglio, Thorpe resigned only with the greatest reluctance when presented with an ultimatum by his parliamentary party.
Because a hound named Rinka had been shot dead the affair became known as Rinkagate. That was after the Watergate Scandal. All scandal names have the word gate affixed to them. The homosexual aspect to the story was more galling for most than attempted murder.
Auberon’s obstinacy in hounding (intended) Thorpe made some find him a bore. Auberon Waugh wrote of the affair, ‘’I hope the death of his friend’s dog has not distressed Mr Thorpe too much. Some people sympathise with Jeremy Thorpe. I am sorry but I find this fucking disgusting. Rinka is not forgotten. Rinka lives. Woof woof!’’ It is a delicious coincidence that in northern England the surname Waugh is pronounced as woof. Waugh’s piece was possibly defamatory. But Thorpe did not sue.
Thorpe’s role in l’affair Rinka was more then accessorial. More likely he was the intellectual author of the murder plot.
Thorpe chose to stand again in Devon North. Waugh decided to stand against him. Auberon chose as his ballot paper description ‘’Dog Lover.’’ He was baiting Thorpe over the slaying of that animal. Thorpe need not have been too fretful about Waugh’s candidacy.
In the end Waugh polled over 100 votes. He considered it a moral victory that Thorpe was unseated by 10 000 votes. Waugh was exultant that his nemesis had been sent packing. Thorpe has expected to lose but not by such a margin. He had entertained hopes of being able to regain the constituency next time.
Though Auberon detested Thorpe he saw eye to eye with the Liberal head honcho on one issue. Auberon vociferated for the European Project. It is worth remembering that in the 1970s and 80s the Conservative Party was more Europhile than Labour. Auberon’s pertinacity in advocating for the EU when this became unfashionable among those of his ilk. Perhaps oddly for a right winger he reviled the United States. He found it soulless and vulgar. What he would have made of Meghan Markle can be easily surmised.
In middle age Auberon’s shtick became somewhat redolent of his pater. He was querulous and quarrelsome but not as curmudgeonly as his father.
Auberon wrote the Peter Simple column for the Telegraph. Here the persona held forth his reactionary ultra-Tory opinions. He fulminated his unwavering admiration for Rhodesia. Waugh was forever in mourning for a bygone age. It was as his pater once penned ‘as irrecoverable as Lyonesse.’ His columns were always a roistering good read.
It was as though Auberon had a weakness for lost causes. It is a penchant I have observed in my good self.
Being a reactionary Waugh was none too enamoured of Mrs Thatcher. The Conservative Party was supposed to be about stasis. Instead, it became an agent of unstoppable change. He lamented the disharmonious relations that the Tories had wrought.
One of the perhaps surprising things about Waugh was his anti-police attitude. In this he was an 18th century Tory. He regarded them as bossy boots, nanny staters and incipient totalitarians. He loathed a nosey parker and a jobsworth. This sort of petty tyrants infuriated him. He also made a name for himself as the foremost anti working class journalist. He reviled plebeians as uncouth, unlettered, unwashed, uncultured and brutish. Hoi pelloi are so often written up as admirable. Waugh was, if you will, an anti-Owen Jones. Waugh contended that the lower orders are no salt of the earth but scum of the earth. Waugh despised the urban metropolitan liberal elite no less.
Though unfailingly mannerly he was also vulgar. He did not stint from swearing.
Auberon was gloriously and acerbically anti-PC. He was violently pro-smoking and anti-healthy eating. He enjoyed God’s bounteous creation by smoking like a volcano and eating like Henry VIII.
Though Auberon was indisposed at the dawn of 2001 his health then disimproved with alarming rapidity. In January of that year he was summoned to meet his Maker.
The police were there to manage the crowds at Waugh’s funeral. As Waugh’s son Alexander said nothing would make his father rejoice more for there to have been a riot at the funeral. One of his benefactions in his bequest was to Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (FOREST).
I warmly recommend his oeuvre. Reading him is never toilsome. His work us by turns mordantly funny, poignant and educative.
Waugh is sorely missed. He was forthright, fearless, mordant, morbid, scintillating yet exasperating. There shall never be anyone like him anymore.
This originally appeared on The Duran.