A Long Lunch: My Stories and I'm Sticking to Them

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am


A Long Lunch: My Stories and I'm Sticking to Them
by Simon Hoggart
John Murray HK$260

What happened when W.H. Auden took LSD? Why does Prince Charles have amsirac? What are the worst seven words in the English language, according to Kingsley Amis? And what did Edward Heath say on the day Margaret Thatcher resigned? (Answers in the final paragraph).

Some people claim not to enjoy gossip. But wait until I tell you a thing or two about them.

Simon Hoggart is a British journalist who has worked for more than 40 years on The Guardian, The Observer, and for the BBC, and is now a parliamentary sketch writer, a profession once followed by the young Charles Dickens. Hoggart may not be a comic genius, but over the years he has amassed a fund of anecdotes, many of which have no doubt featured in after-dinner speeches, and which are collected in this entertaining volume.

Many of us find it hard to resist casting ourselves as the star in our reminiscences. But though you can learn something about Hoggart's life from this book, most of the time he is wise enough to lurk in the background of his stories, and leave the limelight to the politicians, artists, writers and other celebrities who have crossed his path. He modestly sums up his own biography by saying that he moved from being a promising newcomer to a clapped-out old has-been, with no intervening period.

He was born in the north of England, his father being Richard Hoggart, the author of The Uses of Literacy, an early study of mass culture. After Cambridge in the 1960s, where the likes of Salman Rushdie and David Hare were fellow students, Simon Hoggart went to work for The Guardian, then still based in Manchester.

Later he spent several years reporting from Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles before becoming The Observer's correspondent in the US.

I would not recommend sitting down to read this book from cover to cover. The effect would be like eating a jumbo-size packet of crisps all by yourself. But it's a good book to keep somewhere handy, and dip into from time to time.

As in the pages of Private Eye, there is rather more gossip about journalists here than most of us would wish for. But Hoggart also has usually amusing tales to tell about the royal family, writers, actors, sportspeople and, of course, plenty of politicians.

The answers to those questions at the beginning? Nothing. It's reverse charisma. 'Shall we go straight to the table?' And 'Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!'