16 MAY 1992, Page 40

Low life

Rattling old skeletons

Jeffrey Bernard There was a piece in last Monday's Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary about my brother Oliver, to which my attention was drawn by several layabouts and subse- quently newspapers. If you didn't see it I quote the gist of it: In a forthcoming autobiography, Getting Over It, Oliver, a teacher and translator of French poetry, discloses for the first time how he became a rent boy, for six weeks, at the age of 15. 'I don't know, apart from loneliness and a kind of despair of human comfort, how I began my brief and unsuccessful career as a male prostitute or rent boy,' he concludes. Bernard, 62, who has since established a more prosaic reputation as vice-chairman of Christian CND, continues: `I'm not sure even how long it lasted. Perhaps five or six weeks. Eight or ten men and boys may have been involved, and I remember most of them.' The confession is extraordinary for its candour.

The diary went on to say that Oliver has notified both myself and my brother Bruce. In fact we have known that for ages and Oliver is 66, not 62, and he was not, repeat not, expelled from Westminster.

So, of course, the telephone lines began to buzz and I was asked what I thought about this amazing revelation. The answer was, not much. And what did I think about Oliver now? I think he is a bloody hero, is the answer to that. But poor Oliver in so far as the censorious Guardian and Private Eye will probably have a go at him. I think it was the Eye that first disclosed the dark secret that I drink. It will be Bruce's turn next — he has been a werewolf for 64 years — and our cupboards are crammed with skeletons. We have a sister too. Anyway, I thought I'd pass that on. Keith Waterhouse might get a couple of entertainments out of it all, but casting Oliver and Bruce could be tricky. Mind you, Dirk Bogarde could be a suitable rent boy, with Das Lied von der Erde in the background.

Anyway, these shock-horror disclosures have saved me from writing and you from reading about my memorable evening in the Pickwick Club with Marlene Dietrich in 1964. Hot on the heels of Francis Bacon the obituary people have had a field day or fortnight. Also, you have to admit that I didn't bore you by writing about my Gay Hussar lunch with Frankie Howerd. And now, five weeks after it was transmitted, I have just seen myself on the Obituary Show for the first time. I was in Australia when it first went out. Predictably, Michael Heath and Jonathan Meades were very kind and predictably the female journalist and Richard Ingrams were seriously judgmen- tal. Ingrams said I could have been a fairish hack if I didn't drink, without realising that I couldn't write a note to the milkman without a heart-starter. You can't win.

And now I am trying to draw up a guest list for a birthday party. If I wake up on 27 May I will have defied the obituary writers for 60 years. I am sure Geoffrey Wheatcroft can't wait to see his effort in print. What I don't want are judgmental guests, but I would like my diabetic consul- tant, Anthony Kurtz, and his clever nurse Belinda, the heroine who saved me from bleeding to death two months ago, to tear themselves away from the Middlesex Hos- pital and come along for a drink. Come to that, I would like to track down and invite the registrar from St Stephen's Hospital who told me in 1965 that I would drop dead if 1 touched a drop. But he is almost certainly dead himself by now. I wake up in the night and chuckle sometimes.

And now Norman has just telephoned to ask me whether he should accept a regis- tered letter addressed to me. It is almost certainly a summons, but who from? The Inland Revenue or the Grim Reaper?