Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I was lost in France when Alan Coren's death was made public. Nige said it all, of course, but I feel a need to be involved. Here, thanks to a pointer from Frank Wilson, is one of his great late columns. This is a prodigious piece of writing - note, for example, his games with prepositions - that seems utterly effortless. Having read it, you feel you could do it, but you can't. It reminds me of one of his Punch columns about getting up in the middle of the night with a hangover. His description of the head-splitting effect of the fridge light consoles me still. Through such effects, Coren redeemed our ordinary sufferings. He made little things so funny that they seemed to glow with greatness. For me, thanks to Coren, fridge lights have become aspects of a fabulous,though absurd, adventure. He glamorised our incompetence. In the face of this ridiculous world, Coren tells us, just getting by is heroic. Nige says Coren was the funniest man in Britain after the death of Peter Cook. I'd also put Auberon Waugh up there. In fact, Waugh was a greater prose writer but, perhaps, not quite so comically inventive. V.S.Naipaul once told me, that, after considerable thought, he had decided Bron was a better writer than his father, Evelyn. He may well be right. Either way, both Coren and Waugh were funnier than, say, James Thurber and, as writers, they were way ahead of almost all of our currently feted 'literary' authors. But, unlike Thurber and those authors, neither seems destined to enjoy post-mortem literary acceptance. This is absurd. The British tend to over-rate everything about themselves - from football teams to the NHS - but they massively under-rate their comic writers. They just end up being consigned to the least funny shelves in Waterstone's - those labelled 'Humour'. Collected Waughs and Corens in distinguished 'literary' jackets should now be flying off the shelves. Blue plaques should track their lives and academics should write learned texts on their techniques. It's not going to happen. Those of us who know will just have to remain quietly grateful to have been alive when Coren and Waugh were making life seem lighter, better, funnier and so much more bearable.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:25 am