Not quite understanding the title of Jonathan Meades’s new collection of essays, Pedro and Ricky Come Again, is no bar to enjoying them. Meades acknowledges the potential trouble on the first page, devoting a few sentences to half-heartedly explaining the reference (it alludes to a previous collection, from 1989, Peter Knows What Dick Likes, the title itself having something to do with the comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) before getting to the real business of the book, which is to say delightful scabrousness. And so we quickly move to the ills of our era, namely the ‘loud bloc composed of an aggregation of minoritarian special pleaders whose interests may be contradictory, even violently opposed to each other’.
Meades has many enemies and is unafraid to name them, but if there is a single animating adversary in this nine-hundred-plus page book, which draws on writings from 1988 to 2020, it is piety. For Meades, ‘the pieties of woke and its forebears (right-on-ness and political correctness stretching back to literal iconoclasm) are discouraging’ – though Meades often goes further than that somewhat meek adjective. And so Ron Rosenbaum, the author of a book called Explaining Hitler, is derided, in a crib from Bernard Levin, as a ‘“responsible journalist” – dogged, literal and too even-handed … thus prone to grant equivalence to the sane and the crank’. The effect of this miserable method is to crowd out humour, which for Meades amounts to a sin most grave, stemming from a cowardly unwillingness to cause offence to someone, somewhere. So Rosenbaum ‘doesn’t dare admit that while there is nothing funny about Hitler, there is something funny about the spats and mutual character assassinations and hubris and lifelong resentments that inform the Hitler industry’. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at Hugh Trevor-Roper’s ‘verification’ of the Hitler diaries. This same impulse to sensitivity, this ‘tyranny of angelism’, is why it is only ‘just about acceptable to laugh at Sodom but not at sodomites’.
For all the targets aimed at in these pages – they are too myriad to list but include the obvious (Leni Riefenstahl) and also the less obvious (Norman Douglas, for selling the British ‘topological snobbishness’ regarding the Mediterranean) – there is much that Meades appreciates and even celebrates.