14 DECEMBER 1991, Page 56

Low life

Out of the woodwork

Jeffrey Bernard

Thank God for central heating and John Osborne. I have just treated myself to a copy of Almost a Gentleman and it is ter- rific stuff, probably one of the best autohie ographies I have read for years and on a par with his first one, A Better Class of Per- son. It kept me off the streets from cover to cover.

But I am getting more than a little irri- tated by people who say that Osborne is so nasty about his ex-wives. So what? He has written an honest book, all autobiographies must be that, and the squeamish should stick to Enid Blyton. How reassuring it is W know that there are still a small handful of people like him left. Not many, but one or two. There are single sentences in Almost a Gentleman that could be turned into books themselves. A depressing but funny one that gave me pause for thought was, writing of his first wife, Pamela, 'She had taken UP with a Jewish dentist in Derby'. I groaned. Sadly, people want to believe in and read only fairy stories. I had lunch with four such fantasists in the Groucho Club last week. One was an ex-jockey, another the writer Graham Lord and the third a bloodstock agent. The ex- jockey believes that Robert Maxwell Was murdered. Graham thinks he has done a John Stonehouse and is still alive and the bloodstock man thinks he accidentally slipped and fell overboard. All of that is Boy's Own Paper stuff to me. I am con' vinced that Mike Molloy got it right in his excellent piece in the Daily Mail. It was sin" cide.

On Saturday morning I had to phone something over to the Sunday Mirror and I asked the copytaker how things were there. He said that everybody was pretty depressed and apropos the pension fund he added that he had worked for the Mirrar for 30 years. He didn't sound at all disgrun- tled or angry, just very sad. Fancy being mugged by your own boss. And by a self- proclaimed socialist too.

Somehow the vast fraud serves to remind me of other petty and piddling ones involv; ing mere pennies. Yesterday, I buinPeu into the ex-wife of my old friend who cheated me out of £1,000 whom I men" tioned in this column last week. When l'?, upped his Covent Garden roots and tooi, to the country he was sufficiently hat pressed to steam into me for a loan. Now, his ex told me, he has a house in Glances-

tershire and plays golf every day and all day. I am partly amused. He must have given up working and become something of a gentleman. Almost.

Another one came out of the woodwork as well last week: the man I let have £500 and who consequently ignored me for five years. I bumped into him by chance outside the Soho Brasserie. It is by no means a cheap watering-hole but in no time I was buying him drinks. It fascinates me to see just how much gall some people can muster and keep a straight face.

One of my favourite lines is sometimes uttered by the man who owes you money when you accidentally meet. Before you can even say hello he says, 'I've been look- ing for you everywhere. Yesterday I had some money for you.' Yesterday? Someone once remarked to Paul Newman that it must be quite remarkable to be fancied by almost every woman in the world. He said, `Where were they when I needed them?' Quite so.

Well, I hope my old friend's green fees aren't too much of a burden on his resources. I hope also that the staff of Mir- ror Group Newspapers have windfalls tan- tamount to hurricanes.