Sword of Honour Radio Drama — Incoming!

‘Everyone thinks ill of the BBC’, Evelyn Waugh told a BBC interviewer in 1960.

Nevertheless, fourteen years later, the same BBC adapted Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy into a radio drama — a situation in which, though it may have seemed hard at first to judge whether Waugh, or the Beeb, had the last laugh, it’s clear upon reflection that neither did (corpses and corporations being equally incapable of laughter).

Now is the age of the reboot, and the BBC is preparing to broadcast a brand-new radio dramatization of Sword of Honour.

It’ll be a seven-episode series; Episode 1 is set to air on Sunday, September 29 on Radio 4. It’s supposed to become available online here.

Since it hasn’t been broadcast yet, I haven’t heard and can’t vouch for the new adaptation’s quality: This is a heads-up, not an endorsement. That said, it is an Evelyn Waugh radio drama: Whatever the outcome, there will be something worthwhile in that broadcast.

The Korrektiv: Bright Youn… um, Bright Somethings?

Via the BBC: ‘In a sense… the history of every medium is also, at least in part, the history of using that medium for fakery, for hoaxes and all kinds of practical jokes.’

When pranksters create internet hoaxes for fun – or for profit – it becomes difficult to trust what we read or see online.

Jokers and for-profit marketing companies are now devising elaborate online hoaxes, taking advantage of the in-built desire among consumers and media outlets to believe what they really know is unbelievable.

Hacking giant video monitors in New York’s Times Square? Kanye West launching a web startup? Fakes like these are just about believable enough.

Fakes that are just believable enough? Sounds familiar….

In the accompanying video, one of the kids behind the ‘Kanye West web startup’ hoax explains why he dragged Kanye West’s name into his little personal prank: ‘We realized this would probably only be funny to us and our friends, and so we need a name bigger attached to it’ — which sounds very familiar… very VERY familiar. Am I right, friends?

But the Korrektiv Konnektions don’t stop there. About halfway through the video, a professor type mentions that Evelyn Waugh and friends staged a fake art exhibit in London in 1929! Did everyone else know that already? I didn’t know that.

But, sure enough:

This celebrated hoax involved all the leading social figures of the time, and was the brainchild of Brian Howard, the effete socialite dilettante, upon whom Evelyn Waugh modelled the languid Anthony Blanche of Brideshead Revisited. Flushed with the success of his twenty-fourth birthday party, a ‘Great Urban Dionysia’ with Greek mythology as its theme, Howard then dreamed up a project that would not only be a good prank, but might also serve the dual purpose of launching him as an artist.

With his great friend Bryan Guinness, who was at that time married to Diana Mitford later to become the wife of Oswald Mosely, he carefully planned an exhibition of paintings by an imaginary artist. The show opened on July 23 1929 at Bryan Guinness’ house at 10 Buckingham Street, London SW1, advance information having been leaked to the press. Lady Eleanor Smith was suitably duped when she reported in the Sunday Despatch: ‘BRUNO HAT. What will be almost a cocktail party, is the private view of the exhibition of paintings by Bruno Hat to be held in London next week. Bruno Hat is a painter of German extraction, and his work is mainly of the abstract type, seemingly derivative from Picasso and De Chirico….’


This natural, intuitive modern artist was in fact Tom Mitford, Bryan Guinness’ brother-in-law in heavy disguise and with a very affected German accent, who sat in a wheelchair and answered questions during the packed private view.

And Waugh himself even wrote an introduction to the exhibition catalogue, called ‘Approach to Hat’:

Now everyone is aware that what has come to be termed “abstract” painting has only just begun to be “taken seriously” in England. Some years ago Mr. Roberts and Mr. Wyndham Lewis achieved a certain success in that direction, but the acknowledged masters, such as Picasso, Gris and, perhaps, Marcoussis, have only recently found a market in this country. Artistically, we are incurably unpunctual.


The painting of Bruno Hat presents a problem of very real importance. He is no Cezanne agonisedly tussling to reconcile the visual appearance of form with his own intuitional perception of it. Like Picasso, he creates it. Though the experienced eye can see at a glance that his work is entirely free of Picasso’s influence, it is to that artist that we go so far as to compare him. Picasso is the greatest painter of our time for one reason: this reason is that he is the most inspired of all the creators of abstract pictures. Those experts who have seen Bruno Hat’s work definitely accredit him with a similar power, developed, because of his youth only, to a less degree. The significance of this cannot be sufficiently stressed. It means, among other things, that Bruno Hat may lead the way in this century’s European painting from Discovery to Tradition. Uninfluenced, virtually untaught, he is the first natural, lonely, spontaneous flower of the one considerable movement in painting to-day.

Hitherto, good abstract painting has been the close preserve of its Hispano-Parisian discoverers. Bruno Hat is the first signal of the coming world movement towards the creation of Pure Form.

And that got me thinking… and thinking… and thinking…


And then what if…

Mr Hazel Motes met Mrs Melrose Ape?

What if…

… you grew up in an Evelyn Waugh story?

Today in Waugh

No, not that Waugh.  His brother, Alec.  Actually, there is rather a bit about Evelyn, but the piece itself, by former New Yorker theater critic Brendan Gill in his late-in-life memoir A New York Life:  Of Friends and Others, is about Alec.

I am perhaps overly fond of reading harsh things about people of whom I suspect I am overly fond.  Evelyn Waugh, for example.  To wit:  “Everyone who knew [Alec] was quick to say how unlike his brother Evelyn he was, and this was intended to be perceived as a compliment, which indeed it was.  For Alec was charming and kindly and without, as the British say, ‘side,’ while Evelyn was a viperish and pretentious snob.  Alec was content to be an upper-middle-class Protestant; Evelyn would have liked to be a member of the ancient Catholic gentry.  Lacking that (to him) enviable ancestry, he produced an imitation that deceived no one and cost him much of his humanity.”

Oh, it goes on.  “[Alec] mocked the devout Catholic that Evelyn had become, pointing out that he wasn’t so devout as not to have perjured himself with regard to his first marriage in order to obtain the blessing of Holy Mother Church upon his second.  The church frowns upon a man’s having two living spouses; because a divorce has no standing in the eyes of the church, a marriage must be annulled, and the usual grounds for securing an annulment are, or used to be in the Waughs’ time, notably embarrassing – impotence, madness, malformation of the sexual organs, and so on.  ‘At Evelyn’s urging, I, too, p-p-perjured myself at the annulment hearings,’ Alec told me once.  ‘Evelyn had me lay it on good and thick…A whopper or two to help my saintly brother cost my conscience nothing.'”  Life is complicated.

Now back to Alec, and now for the fun part.  “All his life, he was mad about women; he married several times, and had scores of mistresses over a period of fifty years.”  Yes, yes, and?  Well, Alec liked to stay at the Algonquin when he was in New York, which was rather a lot.  From there, he would venture out to various wonderful places for lunch – he was handy with an anecdote.  “Still,” writes Gill, “I came to suspect that perhaps the happiest portion of Alec’s day had already been experienced by the time he turned up at one or another of his clubs and began to hold his companions spellbound.  this happiness was linked to another establishment on West Forty-fourth Street, only a few hundred feet from the Algonquin:  the turn-of-the-century Hudson Theater, which at the time I am speaking of had fallen on hard times and was no longer being used as a legitimate theater.  It had been reduced to showing movies, and not ordinary movies…

“In old age, his once hectic sex life reduced to a jumble of delectable if no longer accurate memories, Alec took comfort in attending these pornographic movies.  The first show at the Hudson began promptly at 11 a.m., and Alec arranged his schedule accordingly…One was tempted to hail him, old friend that he was, but no – he had an important appointment, and nothing must cause him the least delay in keeping it.”

One might, if one were a certain sort of awful person, take a certain measure of amused bemusement in the notion of such a tidy arrangement of one’s libidinous life, of words like “promptly” and “comfort” being applied to matters pornographic.  I am not intending the least sort of blasphemy in saying that it sounds rather like worship – heading down to Our Lady of Perpetual Availability for the reliable gratification of that imagined communion…