Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation, 1918–1940 by D J Taylor - review by Alexander Waugh

Alexander Waugh

Flapping About

Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation, 1918–1940

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The commercial success of Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry’s film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, was impaired by its title, which gave, to those unfamiliar with English colloquial irony, the false impression that it was all about wonderful people. Hollywood moguls had previously rejected the working title, Vile Bodies, on the basis that it might suggest (to those ignorant of Paul’s letter to the Philippians or of Evelyn Waugh) some kind of horror movie. In a televised debate at the time of the film’s release I accused Stephen Fry of feebleness in giving in to Hollywood pressure, and as he was defending himself in a pleasant haze of Scotch whisky and bonhomie, a twenty-foot poster of Evelyn Waugh, which had been erected as a backdrop behind him, came crashing down upon his head.

The terms ‘Bright Young People’ and ‘Bright Young Things’ are of course laden with irony even though the former was coined by the ‘Bright Young People’ themselves. Originally Bright Young People was a club of publicity-seeking, fun-loving, anarchic teenagers and young adults of the 1920s, eager to overthrow the stiffness

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