19 MAY 1984, Page 22


Stern rebuke

Sir: I have spent the past five weeks travelling the length and breadth of the USA where I was shocked to find that, despite a decade of allegedly vigorous editorship by your predecessor, so largely admirable an English-language weekly as the Spectator is virtually unobtainable outside the mid-town Manhattan residence of the correspondent it has permanently accredited to the international demi-monde of rich white and near-white trash, the Hellenophobe Greek Orthodox. Mr Taki Theodoracopulos. This athletic Levantine lettre, with the higher-and-better-born wife he so delights to put down in print as the mere mother of his children, was kind and catholic enough one more or less enchanted April evening cosily to entertain there (inter altos) myself, my old Danish friend Claus Billow (before the recent and overdue quashing of his crookedly-obtained sentences for attempted murder) and Mr Alexander Chancellor, his sometime benefactor and boss. The latter had previously greeted me in New York's.. currently most fashionable chophouse with the cheerful prediction that I was going to dislike his subsequent TV colums even more than the first, the nekulturny drivel of which I had in fact judged to have been nicely counterbalanced by the poet Kavanagh's discerning praise and encouragement of Channel 4 on another page of the same issue.

Yet in more than a half-century of intermittent journalism (the first, after Cambridge and Granta, for whom I wrote being that Beachcomber character come to larger than life, the spoilt old booby J. L. Garvin who used to edit the Observer from Edmund Burke's house at Beaconsfield) I have never encountered any editor save Alexander Chancellor so unethical as to make use, in the most unscrupulous fashion imaginable, of private correspondence, printing extracts from my own on several occasions, on at least one of which it was interpolated into a letter sent officially for publication, in such a way as to alter the sense of both, my protests at this maleducato not to say mafioso practice being ignored. I understand this shabby habit was picked up from too much hanging about with the piratical captain and crew of that singularly unfunny and seldom well-informed fortnightly Private Eye, whose dirty deontology has lately been so magisterially rebuked by its best contributor, Mr Chancellor's brother-in- law John Wells.

Indeed I have naturally unreservedly accepted your most courteous and prompt verbal assurance that absolutely no recidivism in such knavish tricks will be permitted Mr Chancellor by you in future. However not all the sub-titles in the films a conscientious TV critic may be expected to have to view will be in Italian, in which language Mr C's incomparable fluency recently so astonished his fellow-guests at Buckingham Palace where his Sovereign had bidden him help her out with entertaining that darling man President Pertini. He really must brush up his English sight- reading.

'I had never heard before,' he wrote (Television, 31 March), 'that the French called television "le septieme art".' Nor do they, nor had I written as much, as he would have seen had he but re-read his own previous paragraph quoting me as instead calling it 'a vastly important branch of what the Frogs call "le septieme art" '. (As any other schoolboy or Reuters hack would have known, they have been calling film- making that almost since Le Bon Dieu said `Let there be Lumieres' .) Mr Chancellor further chose to assert that I 'was a rare dissenter from the general consensus among Spectator readers that Richard Ingrams was an excellent television critic'. If he believes that he will believe anything. Has he never heard of the silent majority? My impres- sion, gathered from many a reader and con- tributor, was that the name was Legion of those of us who on this topic kept our stiff upper lips uncomfortably sealed to the disparaging if not despairing pouts of our lower.

Perhaps I may be permitted to add that I have greatly enjoyed catching up, over the Bank Holiday weekend, with the Spectator back numbers I have missed while in America, so I hesitate to carp at the usually brilliantly perceptive Peter Ackroyd's Homeric nod in his recent review (Cinema, 14 April) of Schlondorff's Swann in Love in which he voiced a protest at the spectacle of that vapid mummer Jeremy Irons ap- parently 'buggering' a tart in a brothel. It is several months since I saw this film in France, Irons's languid imitation of Anthony Eden smoking a Churchillian cigar while most unChurchillianly engaged there being mercifully dubbed into Proust's own lingo, partially redrafted by Peter Brook. But to the best of my Proustian recollection and heterosexual belief, Swann's way with the girl was not the incidentally still illegal one Ackroyd supposed. He was merely taking her 'en levrette', as Celeste Albaret's chauf- feur husband would have put it, or, as the more insular Squire Ingrams might prefer to hear, 'doggy-fashion'.

Alastair Forbes

Beefsteak Club, Irving Street, London WC2