The Guardian, where David Aaronovitch used to work, runs a column on Saturdays by “Norman Johnson” who is a very unsubtle parody of DA. (Sometimes the prose style is so close to Aaronovitch’s own, and the jokes similarly flat, that I wonder if it’s not the man himself. But that would be … odd.) Part of the joke — perhaps the whole of the joke — is that it takes people in. Gene of Harry’s Place fell for it, and there was much rejoicing when two of the UK left’s most prominent veteran letter writers proved similarly gullible. Indeed, to get the joke at all, you have to twig who is being parodied. Tim Worstall thought the target was Harry’s Place, and I’m sure most Guardian readers draw a blank as well.
If you’re going to do a take-off of a (reasonably) well-known moulder-of-popular-opinion, there is only one man to call. The great thing about Craig Brown‘s parodies is that you don’t have to be familiar with who he’s sending up: the rhythm tells you it’s funny. I don’t know what his politics are exactly, but this reads like a poke at a sort of right-wing snob.
When first I put my head around the door in the mid-1960s (dread decade!) I found myself transported back in time to another world in which delightfully old-fashioned, stately world in which aristocrats (the Duchess of Argyll; Lord Boothby; Lucky Lucan; Lord Rockingham’s XI) could let their hair down in the company of high-flying socialites (Diana Dors; Jack “The Hat” McVitie; Taki Theodoracopoulos; Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion).
And somehow Annabel’s has managed to retain something of that exclusive, cultivated air ever since. The great joy of the club is that one can tuck into a delicious prawn cocktail on a red velvet banquette while indulging in lively discussion with a leading commentator (the estimable Littlejohn or the wry and witty Heffer) while tapping one’s toes to a catchy number from the hit parade such as my own favourite, Knock Three Times by the redoubtable Tony Orlando and Dawn.
(For the ankle-biters among you, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion was a lion in a children’s TV programme in the 60s or possibly the 70s; Taki is the Spectator’s gossip columnist and a convicted cocaine smuggler.) Given the first paragraph, “the estimable [Richard] Littlejohn or the wry and witty [Simon] Heffer” is laugh-out-loud funny. There’s a class of middle-aged men paid handsomely to harrumph at youth, declining standards, policemen not calling them “sir’ often enough, and so on, which I’m afraid Comrades Cohen and Aaronovitch seem to have joined. And this kind of thing pops their pomposity a lot better than Norman Johnson. That was good, but this is genius.
Rough justice, you may say, but it is only with a bit of harmless ragging that these types can ever be made to see sense. When Peter Hain ventured into Annabel’s in a floral cravat and a pair of fawn slacks in the mid-1980s for instance, he began spouting all sorts of nonsense about helping the poor and the needy and other tiresome elements.
Need I go on? At a given signal from General Pinochet, who was Entertainments Secretary at the time, a nippy group of younger members hurled a grubby sheet over the wretched Hain, placed him in leg irons and frog-marched him to the Re-education Room behind the artificial book-case, there to be dosed-up with drugs and permitted to repent at his leisure. Result? Not a Lefty squeak from the fellow since, in fact quite the opposite.