16 MARCH 1991, Page 48

Low life

No more laughter

Jeffrey Bernard

The saga of Renate, the woman from Vienna who chose me as the subject for her PhD thesis, is over. So is the joke. She is dead. I received a telephone call from her boyfriend last Friday evening telling me of the fact. He wasn't very coherent but I got the distinct impression from him that she committed suicide. It would fit since she phoned me the week before in tears to tell me that she was in a mental hospital. It is a mystery. The week before that slie was over here to see me and she spent some time in the Spectator offices looking up old cuttings and asking people about me. We had lunch and she laughed a lot at being teased about her thesis by people in the pub. She looked happy and well. I didn't realise that anyone could crack so quickly and suddenly.

I have a card in front of me which she recently sent me with the present of a book, Mozart in Vienna: 1781-1791, and she wrote, 'I hope the enclosed book will persuade you to come over soon and see it all before the actual Mozzamania starts. Best wishes, Renate.' That doesn't sound much like somebody on the brink. On that last visit to London she spoke of showing me Vienna and taking me to a lake in a forest which she loved and how we would have lunch on a boat there.

I may have made a mistake in writing about this in last week's Sunday Mirror but I repeat it here because I have had letters from Spectator readers who were interested in Renate's 'crazy' project. She loved The Spectator and she would read it in German to her pupils in the school where she taught English. But since the Sunday Mirror piece I have been badgered a little by other newspapers about the sad business. I should have expected that, but she was all I could think about last Saturday.

What a horrendous business suicide is. I first came across it about 35 years ago and the knife ran away with another knife.' when my first wife, Anna, killed herself. We had been separated for some time and had lost contact. At the time I was living in John Minton's house in Chelsea. One day there was a knock on the door and when I answered it a man stood there, a news- paper reporter, and asked me, 'How do you feel about your wife killing herself?' What a bloody way to have news broken to you. I asked him to go away and he actually tried to force the door open.

Anna was no stranger to suicide. As a schoolgirl she had come home one day to find that both her mother and father had hanged themselves. Then it was in that house in Chelsea that Johnny Minton later killed himself with an overdose. He had been drinking more than I have ever seen anybody drink. He was a wreck and it had affected his brain but I still think that maybe it was a drunken mistake. Some people are unlucky enough to succeed in killing themselves. I know two people who have their own overdoses hidden away in case of getting some awful disease like can- cer. I hope to God they are good diagnosti- cians. So, no more laughter with Renate. That rhymes and that is enough said about the tragic matter.