More about the book from the title appears at the end of this post.
I am not sure why I was reminded of the great Bernard, but there it was. The unique combination of pathos and wit in his “Low Life” Columns in the Spectator left its mark. It has something to do with an unquenchable thirst for freedom.
I am glad that I never knew him. But I am sad that he is long gone. All we have are his remarkable words from his Spectator “Low Life” columns that are preserved in a brilliant transcription — a play by Keith Waterhouse called “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell”. BTW, Waterhouse was himself quite a wordshmith.
Lo and behold, one can watch Peter O’Toole play Jeffrey Bernard in Waterhouse’s play on YouTube. There is a wonderful word to describe it – louche.
disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way.
And that captures the life of Bernard, the man. If you are up for it, here it is, though I do not recommend watching it while drinking.. Nor should the kiddies be allowed in the room. This is about adulthood gone wrong.
Here is a snippet that demonstrates the Bernard way with words. He is locked in a pub overnight and starts to drink. Reminiscing on his dismissal from the magazine “The Sporting Life” he says
“Some people are in the habit of writing angry letters to the press. I get it the other way around. The press is is in the habit of writing angry letters to me.”
Then he said “One day I was asked to write my autobiography and I put a letter in the Spectator asking if anybody could tell me what I was doing between the years 1960 and 1974.” Some people apparently responded with suitably louche reminiscences.
Then after a long silence, “I could die here. It’s a good thing I can hold this stuff tolerably well. If I were a yawb or a hoola Henry I mean by the time the pub opened again, I could be … found by the coronoer to (be one of those who) have chocked on their own vomit. Disgusting phrase! When did you ever hear of someone choking on someone else’s vomit?”
BTW, the real life character Mike Molloy makes a brief appearance in the play. He wrote this about the play for The Guardian.
“Waterhouse crafted the play by distilling Jeff’s wonderful Low Life columns in The Spectator, and by adding a large measure of his own comic genius he fashioned one of the funniest plays in the English language. The script was so good that when Waterhouse first sent a copy to Peter O’Toole he received a message on his answering machine cursing him for altering the actor’s life. O’Toole had intended to take the following year off work, but the prospect of doing the play so excited him he decided he must commit to it immediately.”
I found this comment in a review of a collection of Bernard’s Low Life Columns to be amusing
… Of course his work would not be deemed today as politically correct