Friday, October 16, 2009
Roger Lewis interview: 'I think Clive James is a silly cunt'
I have Duncan Fallowell to thank for giving me the biggest laugh of this year. He introduced me to the world of Roger Lewis and his fantastic autobiography Seasonal Suicide Notes: My Life As It Is Lived. It reveals a man who deplores Clive James, Simon Cowell, Harold Pinter, et al. Of Andrew Roberts, Lewis likens the historian's "grimace" to that of "a baboon with diarrhoea trying to hold it in." The state of loathing often elevates him to the lyrically comic. If Gore Vidal had a sense of humour he'd be something like Lewis. If Scrooge had a heart (before the visitations), etc etc.
Learned, misanthropic, baroque, supremely dyspeptic: this is a man who reports that his father died in 2004 of “cancer of the bumhole… My sole inheritance is to comprise spare bumper packs of Coloplast Direct Wetwipes”.
"Like most truly funny people, Lewis has a markedly serious side, a bottomless well of melancholy and possibly even a dash of genuine madness," writes Sunday Times reviewer Christopher Hart of 49-year-old Lewis. A journalist and biographer of Anthony Burgess and Peter Sellers, he is a former Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford. More to the point, he is also the author of Charles Hawtrey: The Man who was Private Widdle.
Roger Lewis kindly submitted to a Madame Arcati analysis.
Roger Lewis! Hello! Congratulations on your autobiography Seasonal Suicide Notes: My Life As It Is Lived. You have given misanthropy a good name. "Roger Lewis is a genius writer, and he knows it," writes Lynn Barber. Do you know it? And what do you think of the demon Barber now she's exiled herself to the Sunday Times?
I must indeed know it -- as how else to account for the fact I live in complete poverty and total obscurity in remote Herefordshire, threatened by bills and bailiffs. I'm like one of those consumptive characters in La Bohème, working under the damp bedclothes because I can't afford to put the heating on. If only I could be mediocre -- oh, for then I might have had a career. I'm too vivid, I fear. I'm not what you might call a safe pair of hands. As for Ms Barber -- she's doing well with that slim tale of her youth. She told it first in Granta. Then again as a little paperback for Penguin. Then as a film. Then as many a feature article. What I'd like to have seen -- Lynn interviewing Lynn by Lynn in her demoniacal mode. As it is, she's allowed herself to slither off the barbed hook.
You come across as a champion hater - weddings, Clive James, bad manners; yet you love Austria and stories featuring wooden legs. Of all the things and persons that appal you, name THE most appalling. And THE thing you most adore.
And Clive James ... he's very nice to his mistresses, and he can read novels in about 57 different languages. Surely that counts for something in these semi-literate times?
Was there a precise moment in your early life when you realised you were possessed of a nature of powerful emotions? (Please don't tell me you tortured earwigs in the garden shed).
Do I have powerful emotions? Who do you think I am, Maria Callas? I get it all from my mother, who is just permanently ferocious -- her temper could put Caerphilly Castle into fucking orbit. I never knew calmness at home as a child. So off I slunk to the attics of this huge red brick Edwardian villa we lived in, to play with my Pelham Puppets. There was a laboratory up there too, where Jeremy Lewis' father Morley once conducted medical experiments. I grew up in an atmosphere James Whale put on celluloid.
Do you know your astrological sign and if so are you true to it?
My star sign is Bestial.
Is it true the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre - who has just bought a wonderful property in the Highlands - wilted when he read one proposed serialisation extract from Seasonal Suicide Notes? He must be a wise man really because he ran something in the end.
Ever since he authenticated The Hitler Diaries, I have not been able to take Lord Dacre wholly seriously. But the Mail has a new and enlightened features editor now called Sandra Parsons, with whom I dealt. However, as a result of my appearance in her pages, my sales ranking plummeted on Amazon.
You deplore bad manners - if there's one thing you could magic away or into existence to improve human intercourse, what would it be? And may I have a taste ruling on the increasing use of the word cunt.
I love the word cunt. Most euphonious. I got drunk the other night and the next day I discovered I'd re-written the lyrics of Les Misérables -- Les Cunterables -- inserting the word cunt in every possible place. This had been e-mailed at 4 a.m. to novelist Paul Bailey, who fell over in Turnham Green and did his ankle in. I am now fully expecting that after my next session on the single-malt I'll be giving the world Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Cunt, Annie Get Your Cunt, My Fair Cunt, and A Funny Cunt Happened On The Way To The Forum.
Apropos bad manners -- I was agog when I had luncheon with somebody at St Alban and they kept poking at their Blackberry device with a little cocktail stick thing, like the monkey in Kubrick's 2001 playing with a bone. I felt that was rude. I think being rude to waiters / underlings is unforgivable. If I see anyone doing that in a restaurant I want to punch them in the face -- luckily I do have a vengeful, violent streak. (Welsh, you see.) To improve human intercourse? Well, it would be nice if people replied to letters. These days you write to people and you might as well be chucking the envelope down a well.
In your book you complain of poor financial returns on your Anthony Burgess and Peter Sellers books - would you ever consider writing a biography of a celebrity just for the money - such as Katie Price (aka Jordan), Paris Hilton or cry-baby blogger Perez Hilton? Perhaps you could turn water into wine. Each has a huge following. You could bathe in scented rose petals for the rest of your life.
I would do anything for money, except live in West Drayton. But I have never heard of the people you mention. I thought they were hotels, like Bromyard Stakis. Water into wine -- ah yes, the Jesus trick. On the other hand, to mix the metaphor, you can't polish a turd.
You do like the high life, you dine at The Ivy, for instance. Is it that you're wealthier than you would have us believe?
I adore the high life. It should be available to all, 24/7. Believing as I do that the only way to waste money is to save it, I always splash out on myself and my loved ones. Then I get back home and there is a summons for Council Tax arrears. My late father was the same -- he'd come back from a gloomy visit to the bank manager and buy a Picasso etching, cashmere coats, a case of vintage sherry from Berry Bros., a dozen hardback books posted from Hatchards, a suit or two from Gieves & Hawkes, and a seaside house in France. He had style. Then he died from cancer of the bumhole.
Now I have heard a rumour you're working on a book that will feature one of my alter egos, Margaret Rutherford. I regard her as the most splendid presence in the English movie, an unsurpassed Miss Marple (the TV versions are pallid). Do you agree? And tell us about the book.
Well, it is not a book about Margaret Rutherford. Margaret Rutherford features in my next opus, Growing Up With Comedians. To be published by Century in the summer of 2010, if I can get my mind back on it. The advance was pitiful -- approximately the equivalent to ten minutes of a lawyer's time. Dedicated to Craig and our late much-lamented chum Hugh Massingberd. Essays and profiles and meditations on my personal favourites, from Alastair Sim and Terry-Thomas up to Johnny Vegas and Malcolm Hardee. It is a feverish book about how comedy deals with sex and death. It is about comedy as tragedy.
Do you shower or bathe? And without looking do you know the price of the brand of bar of soap you use? I hope you don't resent my treating you as a celebrity in OK! magazine ...
I can never be a celebrity. I am so fantastically fat and ugly. You need to be photogenic, like Peter Andre. Not even the great Francesco Guidicini of The Sunday Times could make me look half human. Talk about Phantom of the Fucking Opera. People thought Stratford Johns was still alive.
In my Austrian birdcage I shower. There's also a horrible little shelf in the pan of the bog, for one to examine one's stools -- they are weird these Germanic peoples. It it a digestive / health conscious thing or is to tell fortunes with? Here in the Herefordshire Balkans I sink like a hippo in the tub. I get my toiletries from Penhaligon or Trumpers. I really do. Another reason for being bust. If I unfortunately resemble Stratford Johns taking a mid-morning crap, at least I smell nice.
One reviewer suggested you should see a psychotherapist to analyse your furies. Your thoughts.
My wife is an educational psychologist.
And finally, Roger, if you could be persuaded to host a literary party in London, name five living people you'd invite, and why, and five living people you would bar at the door or kick up the arse, and why.
Those welcome: Barry Humphries (not as Edna or Les but in 1890s mode ), Duncan Fallowell (who is never in anything other than 1890s mode ), Mark Rylance (the greatest living actor -- I've known him since he was Peter Pan), Craig Brown (a very nice Old Etonian), Professor John Bayley (another nice Old Etonian -- and my beloved mentor at Oxford).
Those who can fuck right off: Jonathan Coe (because he was disobliging about me in his Acknowledgements to one of his books and also because his fat wife cut my wife dead at one of my launch parties), Blake Morrison (whose review of my Anthony Burgess masterpiece was homicidal -- I'd love to hear that he has met with a fatal accident), Brian MacArthur (who cut my fee in half when he took over as Lit Ed of the Daily Telegraph -- I'd love to hear that he has met with a fatal accident), sad mother Julie Myerson (who asked me if writing is what I do full time -- yet who'd reviewed my Sellers movie at Cannes and hadn't made the connection), and everybody at HBO (who didn't invite me to the premiere of my own movie at Cannes, because I was "only the author") and whilst we are about it, everyone in my Welsh family (because I don't like being part of anyone else's DNA). That's not five, sorry. That's five hundred.
Roger, you are an angel with talons. Thank you again. And good luck with Seasonal Suicide Notes. It is one of the funniest books I have ever read. x
Apparently it is what Matt Lucas' ex and Stephen Gately were reading when they croaked. The Coroner is going to be after me for murder.
Click here to buy Seasonal Suicide Notes: My Life As It Is Lived. It's better than Dignitas.