Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In praise of: Jeffrey Bernard

Cactus Kate is unwell, or so she says here. Our sympathies go out to her.

However, one suspects that she is planning a debauch, given that she provides this link to to Keith Waterhouse’s play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

Jeffrey Bernard was a legendary Fleet Street hack and drunk (no, that is not necessarily tautologous): his brilliant Low Life columns from the Spectator were once memorably described as a “suicide note in weekly instalments”. Whenever he did not deliver his copy in time to meet the deadline, the Spectator would print the line “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell”. Everyone knew what that meant – he was too drunk to type.

When I went to London in the early 90s, Kevin Ireland who knew I was a fan of the Low Life column said I should go to the Coach & Horses pub in Soho, buy his old friend Jeff a drink and say gidday from him. I can’t remember how they knew each other but one night Kevin piggy-backed Bernard home from the pub when he, Bernard, was legless. This was in the 60s or 70s, long before he became literally legless from alcoholism-induced diabetes.

So one day I went to the Coach & Horses at opening time and there was the great man sitting at the bar with a large vodka and tonic. I have been to a gang headquarters, I have stood next to Rob Muldoon, I have stood next to Titewhai Harawira, I know Helen Clark – but I have never seen anyone so intimidating. Christ knows what he was like in the evening after a day’s boozing.

So I never said hello from Kevin, never bought Jeff that drink and yes, I have been kicking myself ever since.

1 comment:

Mary Hember said...

This photograph should be credited to JULIA HEMBER who took this for an interview by THE IDLER.

It was donated to the National Portrait Gallery but the copyright remains with the photographer's family, as Julia died in 2003 of Leukaemia.

An exhibition of Julia's work is to be staged at The Great Hall of Bart's Hospital to raise funds for their Research. This photograph will be on show together with more of her varied work