The Concord Diaries
(The diaries of Cain and Lazarus Concord, like those of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, were to have been published twenty years after the death of the elder sur- viving brother. However, despite the many inaccuracies, prejudices and exaggerations contained in the daily observations of these two poisonous scribblers, it has been felt that a selection from their pages deserves publication while both the authors and their victims are still alive. Accordingly, Mr. Alan Brien, into whose hands a recent volume of the Concord Diaries arrived in the course of some dubious financial transactions, has transcribed below part of the more printable recent entries.) October 21, 1963.—Re- vulsion against politics this morning. Cain so dis- gusted by underhand in- trigues of despicable, backstairs power-seekers that he is unable to face his usual glass of hot vodka and beef stew. I concocted for him a drink consisting of one Redoxon, two Disprin,.three Alka-Seltzer, four Benzedrine and a dash of bitters. Later I found it untouched and flat- by the side of the bath. On the mirror he had written, 'Life has no meaning—have gone to El Vino.' He is so sen- sitive, introvert and idealistic. Can anyone be surprised that he is shocked by this latest betrayal of our hopes?
It seems unlikely that our book, Harold Macmillan—Hero of 1964, will now have the sale we once fondly prophesied. It is our sixty- ninth work. I look round the shelves of our library at the books of other authors extracted with so much strain and subterfuge from the cupboards of literary editors. Why should their pitiful compilations sell and ours r,main unread — remaindered even before publication?
Always some unpredictable disaster strikes as the dust-jackets are in the press. Only Cain and I now remembet Halifax—Heir to Chamberlain (1940), The Era of Wendell Wilkie (1940), Hitler in Moscow (1941), Thomas E. Dewey— Leader of the West (1944, revised 1948), Winston Churchill—Peace-time Premier (1945), Our Orien- tal Ally—Chiang Kai-dhek (1946), John Free- man—Man of Destiny (1951), Studies in Heredi- tary Genius—Randolph S. Churchill, Lord Coleraine, Malcolm Macdonald, Viscount Prest- wood (1956). Will Cain ever finish his notes for loin Macleod—The Formative Years?
October 23, 1963.—Cain arrived home last night with all the familiar signs of a severe asthma attack. His eyes looked like lightly boiled eggs, his nose, was purple and his breath reeked of some alcohol-based .medicine. There were also two long scratches on his left cheek and his sheepskin jacket had distinct stiletto- heelmarks between the shoulder blades.
He told me he had paid his usual weekly early- morning visit to Moira Browning, the unlady- like lady novelist, to discuss the possibility of syn- thesising Existentialism, Catholicism, Marxism and Nymphomania into a new world-view. Moira had not left the basement door on the latch and was • a long time replying to his hammerings. When she did arrive, the only wel- come he received was abuse through the letter- box--this was somewhat muffled, but he had immediately noted on his inevitable scratch-pad what he took to be 'Hiss off, you important old Boer' and 'Stuff your theories in your ear-hole.'
Cain is more athletic than he looks and strong for his size (Moira used to say that the phrase, `Yes—but perfectly formed,' arose in her mind whenever she saw him). By standing on several beer crates, luckily discovered in the alley next to the fish shop, he was able to reach the handle
of the french windows leading to the bathroom. (Moira says that the sight of her naked has re- leased many of the class-inhibitions fostered by the Establishment over centuries in the neigh- bouring tannery workers.) Among several other objects hanging from a hook by the shower, he found Moira's list of early-morning visitors and checked that it was indeed his turn. Judging by the amount of noise in the bedroom, he assumed that the battling critic, Tom Port- manteau, had jumped the queue and was now breaking up the furniture.
world. see through
La.:. I did so enjoy your show, 'Homo- sexual Abortionists in the Crimean War.' Such a powerful use of stills in a medium ob- sessed with moving pic- tures.
Stan. The link-man was wearing a metal watch strap. He'll have to go.
Laz. And the next night,, you excelled your- self with 'VD Also Began in the North.' Pro- vincial in the best sense, 1 thought.
Stan. I'm sure that commentator was wear- ing suede shoes. If I've told them once, I've had it embossed on the wall of every office— 'Patent Leather is Patrician.'
Luz. And then your drama series, 'Out of Copyright,' recalls the deathless era of the lan- tern slide. Have you ever thought of running a little idea of mine, 'Writers and Relatives,' about literary families such as Evelyn and Auberon, Charlotte and Emily, Edmond and Jules and even, perhaps, Cain and Lazarus?
Stan. Did any of them wear large cuff-links? —it's an infallible sign. If I've told them once . . .
Then he drifted off to talk of Moira Browning's
symbolism with that well-known lover of allegory, the fearless crusader for circulation, Hugh Crudrnouth. Fascinating as his conver- sation had been, I was not sorry to see him go. I had just noticed that Cain was lying down to rest under the piano—those cuff-links are very tiring on his tiny arms.
November 3, 1963.—Sebastian Featherstone-
haugh was in good form in El Vino today. Cain asked him why' anyone not positively moronic
should be so reactionary as he is in his political columns on Sundays. 'Basty' balanced his glass on Cain's head and made the following brilliant analysis.
'My dear little chap, you must not allow your grubby board-school prejudices to obscure what intellect the divine planner has mistakenly chosen
to embed in that tiny cranium. Can you not
understand that the aristocracy today are the last of the oppressed minorities? I happen to
know that on occasion Sir Alec Douglas-Home was forced to go to school without gloves. And Eton—1 suppose you think that is a stronghold of privilege? If y ou had known the Etonians I have known, you would realise that even the
most feeble-minded is not turned away from that hospitable door. It was the first of com- prehensive schools. Can you not imagine the actual physical horror of being rich—of feeling marked off from your fellow men by being segregated in the expensive restaurants, the big cars, the best seats at the theatre, walled in behind butlers, secretaries and club porters all your life? Southern Negroes are free men by comparison.'
Cain was now sobbing. And Lunchtime O'Booze, with that characteristic generosity
which so often softens the Puritan severity of his judgments on his weaker colleagues, sent Cain tumbling ddwn the lavatory steps with a sweep of his arm as he promised solemnly to
forgive all the rich proprietors who had insulted him by paying his debts, renewing his contracts,
overlooking his disappearances and swallowing
his inventions over the years. It was a touching scene—and after Lunchtime had touched every- one against the King's Evil and in favour of a large loan, we all felt somehow cleansed and uplifted.
November 5, 1963.--.-Cain returned from the TV Centre this afternoon, slightly under the in- fluence of-asthma, but otherwise in a mood of sprightly euphoria. He has just signed a contract for a tour of Soho, with a camera team, which would last six months. 1 was sorry to lose him
for so long in distant parts, but 1 was glad that his qualities as a travel bore had at last been
appreciated. There was only one snag—he re- mained a little uncertain of the details of what was to be filmed. David Havaknock, the Welsh genius of the BBC, had been eloquent but elusive in his pep talk.
According to Cain's scratch-pad, Havaknock had said—'Look, boy. forget all about topical
angles and newspaper timeliness. We leave that old-fashioned stuff to Granada. What 1 want is the smell, boy, the smell of the ropey, dopey, groping heart. The ever-changing sameness of
the place, its dirty cleanness. A sort of colourful monochrome, do you understand me, a silence
full of noise. There's a kind of ancient, new- born, black-and-white greyness there, boy. Jump in backwards, you see, land on your head with
both feet and then strike out with a wild, pas- sionate calm. I know you can do it. If I can talk it, you can do it. Grand, grand, that's it. We'll look at the first shots tomorrow at 10.30.'
We both agreed that Fleet Street, if not Down- ing Street and Lambeth Palace, had missed a great executive in Havaknock. The project was now in that favourite BBC state of free-floating chaos—to use Havaknock's own highest term of praise: 'That's bloody marvellous, man. Why it's practically meaningless.'
November 10, 1963.—Signs of hope for literary artists such as ,Cain and me. We have always held that originality is one of the most over- rated of the talents. Some of the best of our ,works have been savaged by jealous critics with their cult-cries of `derivative,' fashionable,' 'second-hand.' Now at last we see other writers have begun to realise that there is no profit in slaving away to invent your own plots and situations when you can pick up perfectly usable ideas out of paperback reprints. All that is necessary is to describe the work you are re- writing as 'one of the seminal myths of Western civilisation' and put new paper in the typewriter.
So far, Cain's plays, I must admit, have not had the success they deserve. Perhaps he does not realise that Shakespeare has been rather over- exposed to the public and that some of the feebler minds object to watching him dished up in modern dress. How else to explain the mysterious failure of Mr. Lear of Wall Street, in which he ingeniously transformed the King into a mil- lionaire stockbroker, Cordelia into a Marxist undergraduette, Goneril and Regan into Lesbian action painters, and the Fool into Lenny Bruce? I am sure that he will have more success with his new versions of Lope de Vega--after all, as he does not speak the language, he will be pro- tected from some of the accidental plagiarisms which so disturbed the critics previously.
A triumph •in the field of creative• synopsis has already been achieved by Spenser Willman, the theatre critic. The material began as a volume of short stories about English soldiers written by an English author, was translated into a scenario about American soldiers by an American screen-writer, was then metamor- phosed into a novel about American soldiers by Willman, revised by the original author, and issued as a paperback to coincide with the release of the film. I do not envy Willman his fee of £1,000, but I do sympathise with him on discovering that his novel was then heavily rewritten by an English film critic for serialisa- tion in a newspaper which was part of the group which employed him. Hard luck, Spenser.
Cain has been inspired by these successes to offer himself to Hollywood as the man who will write the book-of-the-film for Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses, Samson and Delilah and The Bible, with a wide choice of races, creeds and backgrounds, varied according to the country in which the films are being shown.
November 18, 1963.—Cain and I, despite our humble origins (mere country gentry who stretch back to the Domesday Book), have never been very close to the Labour Party. Except for a few months towards the end of 1945, when Cain shouted out 'We are the bastards now' from the Gallery of the House, and perhaps lately, when the Gallup Polls have been disturbing our nights, we have never regarded them as the sort of people whose invitations we mid honestly accept. Apart from an occasidual host like Wilson Windrush, MP (even here Cain swore that he was only sick over Lady Molly because he had been poisoned by the verdigris on the gold plate), they did not have the sort of cook who suited our palate.
But lately we have been wondering if we have misjudged these honest, if unsophisticated, fellows. Personally, I prefer those of them who come from the horny-handed classes instead of those whose Socialism appears to be a delayed
revenge on the school bully. That's why we like Jack Black, who obviously was a school bully —a different kind of school, perhaps, but bullies laugh at class barriers. So long as we can meet him in somebody else's house, or even a public house, and manage to avoid sharing a taxi afterwards, we enjoyed his bluff, tough, candid outspokenness. It is amazing how many influen- tial people he knows.
But then, 1 find all these late-night political chats between rival pundits very confusing. There is a curious slurred quality about the sound and the participants appear to lurch occa- sionally when their elbows miss those little tables. Perhaps they are not truly relaxed and feel the need for the open, easy atmosphere of brandy after dinner. I am surprised the TV companies do not provide a drink or two to conquer their shyness. Puritanism, as Cain often says, has paralysed the nerve centres of our civilisation. That is so true.
But tonight I enjoyed myself . thoroughly watching 'That Was Satire That Was.' It was the 'first birthday of the programme and the sixteenth birthday of some of the contributors'— or so Cain said. Though I suspect that this was one of his 'society' jokes picked up, like so many other things, at Lady Molly's. Previously I had found the programme too aggressively, over-conscientiously, determined to hunt down the cliche and tear it apart. I'm sure many cliches do enjoy being hunted. But they are harm- less beasts and have often given me much pleasure and profit.
Tonight's tribute to President Kennedy was reassuring. It consisted almost entirely of well- placed platitudes and familiar quotations—even including one from that great American poet, Longfellow, 'Sail on, 0 ship of state, sail on.' I had not realised that these ferocious young things could be such kindly children at heart, rather like schoolboys who discover too late that their favourite master, rudely teased and ragged in the past, is also human and destruct- ible. Happily, there was no emphasis on the man as a political animal—a wily, shrewd, strong, ruthless fighter for power who believed more in himself than in programmes or policies. Satire is obviously soluble in sentiment and that admirable BBC sense of occasion resists even the most critical and objective of intelli- gences.
NoveMber 24, 1963.—Met Richard Morrison, the committed TV critic, walking his dog in a Hampstead pub. I wish I could understand even half of his persuaSive jargon. I asked him his opinion of 'TWSTW' and he replied—Wmmm. An eyeball-riveting, pupil-embossing trauma- substitute embodying equal parts of Marxist alienation and Freudian transference, wasn't it? For a pyknic type, Ted Flake is curiously ecto- morphic and entirely without gerontophiliac appeal. A satisfying watch, 1 thought, rather re- sembling a basketful of snakes being eaten by a convention of Trotskyite dwarfs in a surreal- ist nightmare. Screen-stealing without being cortex-stunning if you follow me—erotic, esoteric, nihilistic, equivocal and egregious, not to mention a few other of my invariable ad- jectives. Have I ever shown you my imitation of a chimpanzee in heat?'
Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately, as I am very sensitive to bites) I had to return to our Primrose Hill flat to await- Cain's return. 1 was .worried, and a little surprised, that he had missed last night's instalment of 'The Campers'—a rather bizarre thriller series, con- taining a girl baked in black leather and a man dressed like the abdicated King of the Teds, which follows a pattern as rigid and invariable as a Hindu Vedanta. Cain sometimes becomes oddly excited at this innocent entertainment, dressing up in a gas mask and flogging himself with a rhino whip.
When I got back home, he told me he had spent the night with the Goddams in their con- verted workhouse in Kent. George Goddam is a film scriptwriter who specialises very success- fully in movies about CND members who have lost their faith. His wife, Priscilla, is a music critic who can unearth an orgasm even in a posthumous Beethoven quartet and insinuate a sexual metaphor into a discussion of the orchestration of 'God Save The Queen.' She is widely recognised as the British authority on the moral value of dirty folk songs. George and Priscilla had just taken delivery of a con- signment of rubber commodes, plastic jock- straps and nylon shrouds so that Cain felt he must stay and help them research the new toys. He obviously adored his visit, poor boy. But from what he said I gathered that they rather unfairly insisted that he always took the role of the clumsy dustman, the stupid slave, the un- wanted grandpa and the naughty baby. It will be several weeks be- fore some of his worst chafings and bruises heal properly.