'ISN'T ROBERT SIMPLY killing?' gushed Nancy Mitford to her brother Tom. 'I love it when he talks about poetry & books, he seems to hate everything which ordinary people like! Somebody mentioned Keats & he gave an awful look & said "That man".' So taken was Mitford by the precocious Robert Byron - he had written his first book, Europe in the Looking-Glass, at the age of twenty - that she would happily have married him, had it not been for his penchant for 'this wretched pederasty'; after his death in 1941 she declared that she had 'never known anyone so complex', and that, more than anything else, she missed his jokes.
Byron's best-remembered joke, often repeated from Oxford onwards, was to dress up as Queen Victoria, to whom he bore a distressing resemblance, and his biographer reveals how, while at Eton, he caused a frisson to run through the school by pulling a toy dog on a string down the High