Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Lucian Freud’

Soho in the Eighties ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th September, 2018

Soho in the EightiesIt is widely acknowledged that Soho bohemia had its heyday in the 20-odd years following the Second World War. My old friend Dan Farson (charming when sober, poisonous when drunk) wrote a successful book called Soho in the Fifties that captured the revels of the age, and in the 1990s, at the request of the National Portrait Gallery, I put together a little volume Soho in the Fifties and Sixties, lavishly illustrated with portraits from the gallery’s collection. Now Christopher Howse, the bearded deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, has taken the story forward a generation, in his new book Soho in the Eighties (Bloomsbury Continuum, £20), which is mainly a collection of stories and reminiscences from his own Soho days and nights during that period. The main venues where the action (or more properly, perhaps, inaction) takes place will be familiar to connoisseurs of Soho’s past, notably the Colony Room, the French pub and the Coach and Horses. In fact, the last-mentioned public house (presided over by the self-proclaimed Rudest Landlord in London, Norman Balon) figures particularly prominently, as Christopher Howse’s favourite drinking-hole. There’s even a convenient sketch map of the Coach’s interior, showing where the regulars often sat. Some of those regulars had been around for decades, leftovers with hangovers from the past, like Jeffrey Bernard, the Spectator‘s “Low Life” columnist, but other characters Howse mentions were new to me. The twin artistic peaks of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are still visible on the Soho landscape, though the YBA Damien Hirst and his fellows were starting to take over the Colony Room. Howse’s stories are largely the Soho stable of drink, bitchiness and occasional true wit, but it is telling that many of those he recounts actually date from the earlier, heyday, period, when Muriel Belcher still sat perched on her stool in the Colony Room, ready to pounce on any hapless newcomer, and where people still remembered Dylan Thomas. So although there are some amusing passages in Howse’s book, anecdotes scattered like confetti to mixed effect, overall it comes over as a Requiem for bohemian times past.

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Nigel Jones at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th April, 2014

Nigel JonesTo most Liberal Democrats the name Nigel Jones means the former LibDem MP for Cheltenham and latterly Peer. But this lunchtime, thanks to the Kettner lunch club, another Nigel Jones spoke in the David Lloyd George room: the writer, broadcaster and historian Nigel Jones, who came to talk about his latest book: Peace and War – Britain in 1914 (which I hope to review shortly). The setting was appropriate, as Lloyd George figures prominently in the narrative of the run-up to and beginning of the so-called Great War, even though for a long time he thought war was unlikely, unlike some of his colleagues who had a dimmer view of the Kaiser’s intentions. Nigel Jones — who has recently been honing his performing techniques at literary festivals in Oxford and elsewhere — gave such a polished performance that the professor in the audience who asked the first question declared that it was quite the best lunchtime speech he had heard at the Kettner lunch. As someone who has spoken there myself, I am happy to agree. Nigel and I — who, we realised over lunch, had met previously at a Biographers’ Club event years ago — have largely produced works of biography (including literary biography) and history, both being fascinated by the real world, which can itself be subject to endless interpretations. I thoroughly enjoyed his “Through a Glass Darkly: A Life of Patrick Hamilton” some years ago. He tells me that whle living in Vienna he got the idea of writing a life of the painter Lucian Freud, but as with so many who have contemplated this task came up against something of a brick wall. I count myself lucky that in my case the prickly and litigious Freud merely demanded the withdrawal of the first edition of my book on Soho in the Fifties and Sixties because of an incorrect caption. His brother Clement (a one-time Liberal MP) wouldn’t speak to him, but I never got the chance to check the artist out at first hand.

Link: http://headofzeus.com/books/Peace+and+War:+Britain+In+1914?field_book_type_value_1=Hardback&bid=9781781852538

 

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Peter Brookes: The Best of Times

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st August, 2011

There are many good reasons not to read the Times, Rupert Murdoch being the most obvious. But one of that newspaper’s best features for some years now has been the output of political cartoonist Peter Brookes. Like all the best of his breed, he is topical, irreverent and puts the boot in where it’s needed. Unlike some cartoonists, however, he draws charicatures that are clearly identifiable, no matter how far-fetched the distortion. I think particularly of his Nature Notes, which have, for example, featured Harriet Harman as a praying mantis, Nicolas Sarkozy as a cockerel on stilts and Hazel Blears as a snail. No-one of any political party or natonality is free from his humorous barbs. Fortunately, every so often his very best cartoons appear in beautifully reproduced full-colour collections such as the one I have been savouring this afternoon: The Best of Times… (JR Books, London, 2009; £15.99). Peter Brookes holds no-one sacred, be it the Pope, the Queen or Barack Obama. Moreover, his willingness to get right to the bone prompts outright guffaws, such as his drawing of a very smug Bill Clinton declaring: ‘Fellow Democrats, trust me! Would I ever leave a sour taste in you mouth?!’ Because the volume covers the final years of the last Labour government, both Tony Blair (over Iraq) and Gordon Brown (portrayed naked on a sofa, in a pastiche of Lucian Freud’s ‘Benefit Supervisor Sleeping’) get it in the neck. I particularly love the image of a manic Cherie Blair, with terrifying grin, typing her autobiography on an old-fashioned cash register. And there is an unfogettable image of John Prescott impaled by a croquet hoop on a croquet lawn while Peter Mandelson aims a ball straight between his legs. As Liberal Democrats were not yet in government, they don’t fgure very much in this collection, apart from poor old Ming Campbell drawn alongside a Thora Hird-style stair-lift and Nick Clegg as a bird called the Great Shag. But I am sure there will be lots for LibDems to groan and giggle over by the time the next collection of Peter Brookes’s work comes out.

Link: www.jrbooks.com

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The End of the Colony Room

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th September, 2008

The curtain will come down on 60 years of Soho history when the private members’ drinking club, The Colony Room, closes soon, so that the Dean Street building housing it can be turned into flats. Generations of writers, artists, photographers, their muses and multifarious hangers-on have used it as their social base, from Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud to Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. The novelist Colin MacInnes probably best summed up the Colony Room’s morbid attraction when he wrote: ‘To sit with the curtains drawn at 4 p.m. on a sunny afternoon, sipping expensive poison and gossiping one’s life away, has the futile fascination of forbidden fruit.’

The poison — often gin and tonic, or champagne, was indeed expensive, not least because one did not just buy one’s own drinks, but was expected to stand rounds for everyone at the bar, often on the barman’s whim. Even in later years, one felt the ghostly presence in the place of its long-deceased first patronne, Muriel Belcher, whom I described in my book ‘Soho Characters of the Fifties and Sixties’ as ‘a foul-mouthed, butch bisexual of Portuguese Jewish origin.’ She presided over the Colony Room — which the original habitués referred to simply as Muriel’s — like a hawk, ‘perched on her stool near the door, ready to pounce on any newcomer or person who was currently in disfavour.’ Her put-downs were withering. She referred to all men — not just the numerous homosexuals who frequented the Club — as ‘she’. Even the late German Fuhrer was cut down to size by being referred to as ‘Miss Hitler’.

But Soho being Soho, new places, new faces and new trends have superceded the old, as they doubtless always will.

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