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Soho’s ruthless genius

Features | September Issue


Christopher Howse remembers his friend and drinking partner Jeffrey Bernard, who died 20 years ago this month, aged 65

I spent more time with Jeffrey Bernard than Boswell did with Dr Johnson. But, in the Soho of the Eighties, it was difficult to remember what had happened the night before. In any case, Jeffrey was his own Boswell in the Low Life columns for the Spectator that gave a version of his life. He spent most of the hours between periods of unconsciousness in conversation. He was good at it, and it served as a rehearsal for his columns, typed in the unreal, early hours of press day with seldom a correction. The Coach & Horses was his rehearsal room. In that decade, it was one of a clutch of Soho conversation pubs where painters and poets gathered, with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud among them. Stagehands, actresses and shoplifters (down the other end, with the Italian gangsters) talked and shouted at each other, too. Its radical democracy admitted anyone...

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